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LIVES OF BRITISH ENGINEERS, from the Earliest Times 

to the Death of Robert Stephenson ; with an Account of their Principal 
Portraits and 270 Woodcuts. 3 Vols. 8vo. 63s. 

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Illustres a 1'aide de Biographic. Traduit de 1'Anglais par ALFRED TALAN- 
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[Abridged from ' Lives of the Engineers.'] With Illustrations. Post Svo. 6s. 



Lives of the Engineers.'] With Illustrations. Post Svo. 6s. 


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THE present volume concludes the author's 'Lives of 
the Engineers.' Its preparation was begun many years 
since. The favourable reception given to the ' Life 
of George Stephenson,' the principal improver and 
introducer of the locomotive engine, encouraged the 
author to follow it by a Life of James Watt, the prin- 
cipal inventor and introducer of the condensing engine. 
On making inquiries, however, he found that the 
subject had already been taken in hand by J. P. Muir- 
head, Esq., the literary executor of the late Mr. Watt, 
of Aston Hall, near Birmingham. As Mr. Muirhead 
was in all respects entitled to precedence, and was, 
moreover, in possession of the best sources of informa- 
tion, the author's contemplated Life of Watt was 
abandoned, and he satisfied himself with embodying 
the substance of the materials he had collected in a 
review of Mr. Muirhead's work, which appeared in the 
' Quarterly Eeview' for July, 1858. 

Having recently, however, through the kindness 
of M. P. W. Boulton, Esq., of Tew Park, Oxon, been 
enabled to examine the extensive collection of docu- 
ments brought from Soho, including the original corre- 
spondence between Watt and Small, between Watt and 
Boulton, and between the latter and his numerous 


intimate friends and business correspondents, it has 
appeared to the author that, notwithstanding the valu- 
able publications of Mr. Muirhead, the story of the life 
of Watt is one that will well bear to be told again, in 
connexion with the life and labours of Matthew Boulton 
of Soho. The two men were so intimately related 
during the most important period of their lives, and 
their biographies so closely intermingle, that it is almost 
impossible to separate them. They are therefore treated 
conjointly in the present volume, under the title of 
4 Boulton and Watt,' the name of the old Soho firm 
which so long enjoyed a world- wide reputation. But 
though the name of Boulton takes priority in the title, 
that of Watt will be found in many respects the most 
prominent in the narrative. 

The MS. papers which have been consulted for the 
purposes of the present volume are of an unusually 
complete and varied character. They consist of several 
thousand documents selected from the tons of busi- 
ness books and correspondence which had accumulated at 
Soho. The most important were selected and arranged 
by the late M. Eobinson Boulton, Esq., who entertained 
the highest regard for his father's memory ; and, from 
the character of the collection, the author inclines to the 
opinion that it must have been made with a view to 
the preparation and publication of a Life of Matthew 
Boulton, which has not, however, until now been 
undertaken. Thus, among sundry papers endorsed " M. 
Boulton Biographical Memoirs," is found a MS. memoir 
in the handwriting of James Watt, entitled " Me- 
morandum concerning Mr. Boulton, commencing with 
my first acquaintance with him," and another of a 


similar character, by Mr. James Keir, both written 
shortly after Mr. Boulton's death. Another collection, en- 
dorsed " Familiarum Epistolse et Selects, 1755 to 1808," 
contains letters received from various distinguished 
personages iii the course of Mr. Boulton's long and 
interesting career. The number of original docu- 
ments is indeed so large, that, but for a rigid exclu- 
sion of non-essential matter, these Lives must have 
expanded into several volumes, instead of being com- 
pressed into one. But the author believes labour to be 
well bestowed in practising the art of condensation, and 
that the interest of biography gains much by judi- 
cious rejection. What Watt said to Murdock as to the 
production of a machine, holds equally true as to 
the production of a book, " It is a great thing," said 
Watt, " to know what to do without." 

Besides the memoirs of Boulton and Watt, which 
occupy the principal places in the following volume, 
it will also be found to contain memoirs of the other 
inventors who have at various times laboured at the 
invention and application of the steam-engine, of 
the Marquis of Worcester, Dionysius Papin, Thomas 
Savery, and Thomas Newcomen. The author has also 
been enabled to gather from the Boulton papers a 
memoir of William Murdock, which probably contains 
all that is likely to be collected respecting that excel- 
lent and most ingenious mechanic. 

In addition to the essential assistance received from 
M. P. W. Boulton, Esq., in preparing the present book, 
without which it would not have been undertaken, 
the author desires to record his acknowledgments 
to J. W. Gibson Watt, Esq., for information relative to 

viii PREFACE. 

James Watt ; to Charles Savery, Esq., Clifton, J. T. 
Saveiy, Esq., Modbury, Lieutenant-Colonel Yolland, 
R.E., and Quartermaster Connolly, R.E., for various 
facts as to the family history and professional career 
of Thomas Savery, inventor of the " Fire Engine ; " 
and to Thomas Pemberton, Esq., Heathfield ; W. C. 
Aitkin, Esq., Coventry ; George Williamson, Esq., 
Greenock ; the late J. Murdock, Esq., Handsworth ; 
and the late Mr. William Buckle, of the Eoyal Mint, 
formerly of Soho, for various information as to the 
lives and labours of Boulton and Watt. 

In his treatment of the subject, it will be observed 
that the author has endeavoured, as much as possible, 
to avoid introducing technical details relating to the 
steam-engine. Those who desire further information 
on such points, are referred to the works of Farey, 
Tredgold, Bourne, Scott Eussell, Muirhead (' Mecha- 
nical Inventions of James Watt 5 ), and other technical 
treatises on the subject, where they will find detailed 
particulars of the various inventions which are only 
incidentally referred to in the following pages. 

London, October, 1805. 



Anecdote of Matthew Boulton and George III. Boger Bacon on steam 
power Early inventors, their steam machines and apparatus Hero of 
Alexandria, Branca, De Cans The Marquis of Worcester His water- 
works _ His imprisonment His difficulties The water-commanding 
engine His " Century of Inventions " Obscurity of descriptions 
of his steam-engine Persevering struggles His later years and death 

Page 1-26 


Zeal of the Marchioness of "Worcester Sir Samuel Morland His pumps 
and fire-engines His privations and death Dr. Dionysius Papin 
His digester Experiments on the power of steam His steam-engine 
Proposed steamboat Early schemes of paddle-boats Blasco Garay 
Papin's model engine and boat Destroyed by boatmen Papin's death 



Thomas Savery The Savery family Savery's mechanical experiments 
and contrivances His paddle-boat Treatise on ' Navigation Improved ' 
Cornish mines and the early pumping machinery Savery's " Fire- 
engine " Exhibition of his model Explanations in the * Miner's 
Friend ' The engine tried in Cornwall Its failure at Broadwaters, 
Staffordshire Savery's later years His death and testament 39-58 


Slow progress in invention of the steam-engine Thomas Newcomen of 
Dartmouth His study of steam-power Correspondence with Dr. 
Hooke of the Eoyal Society Newcomen's experiments Assisted by 
John Galley Newcomen's atmospheric engine Newcomen and Galley 
erect their first engine Humphrey Potter the turn-cock boy's contri- 
vance Engines erected at Newcastle-on-Tyne, Leeds, and Cornwall 
Wheal Fortune engine Mr. William Lemon Joseph Hornblower 
Jonathan Hulls and steam propulsion of ships His steamboat Ex- 
tended use of the Newcomen engines in Cornwall and northern mining 
counties Payne, Brindley, and Smeaton, improvers of the steam-engine 




James Watt, his birthplace and lineage His grandfather the mathematician 

Cartsdyke and Greenock in the last century James Watt's father 
His multifarious occupations His mother Watt's early years His 
fragile constitution Sent to school His first visit to Glasgow His 
indulgence in story-telling His boyish ingenuity His home education 

the Stuart rebellion Watt's love of scientific pursuits Sent to 
Glasgow to learn the trade of mathematical-instrument maker Page 77-95 


Glasgow in 1754 The Glasgow tobacco lords The early clubs, and social 
habits of the merchants Watt's master Leaves Glasgow, and pro- 
ceeds to London on horseback Is placed with a mathematical-instru- 
ment maker His progress in learning the trade Frugal living in 
London Danger from press-gangs His infirm health Returns to 
Scotland Refused permission to begin business in Glasgow Gains 
asylum in the College His workshop there Makes musical instru- 
ments His various reading and studies Intercourse with the pro- 
fessors Intimate relations of Watt with Robison Robison's estimate 
of Watt 96-110 


Robison and Watt's conferences on the power of steam Dr. Black and latent 
heat Watt's experiments on steam His apparatus The college 
model of the Newcomen engine arrives from London Watt's experi- 
ments upon it His difficulties and perseverance His instrument- 
making business improves Takes a partner and opens a shop in the 
Salt Market His marriage Continued experiments on steam His 
Sunday walk on Glasgow Green, and his first idea of the condensing 
engine His experiments with the model, and successive difficulties 
Anecdote of Watt and Robison and the new apparatus The model engine 

Removes to a cellar and erects a working engine Mechanical and 
financial difficulties 118-137 


Watt's introduction to Dr. Roebuck Begins business as surveyor Surveys 
canals Partnership with Roebuck in the engine Difficulties in con- 
structing the engine Watt's visit to Kinneil A patent determined on 

Watt's despondency Continues his improvements Learns German 

Correspondence with Dr. Small Specification of patent lodged 
Watt erects a trial engine The washhouse behind Kinneil The engine 
completed Its defects Roebuck's embarrassments Watt accepts 
engagement to superintend canal works Employed in various surveys 
Designs Hamilton Bridge Supplies plans for dock and pier at Port 
Glasgow and harbour at Ayr Illness and death of Mrs. Watt Dr. 
Roebuck's ruin Turning point in Watt's fortunes .. .. 138-158 



Birmingham in early times Its industry Eoads William Hutton 
The Boulton family Matthew Boulton begins business His trade 
correspondence His marriage His love of business Snow-hill and 
Soho Partnership with Fothergill Aims at excellence in his produc- 
tions Emulates Wedgwood Surpasses French art-manufacturers 
His royal and noble patrons Employs the best artists Visits of 
foreigners at Soho Extension of business Promotes canals His vast 
business Commercial panic Boulton's scientific pursuits Page 161-181 


Water- and horse-power at Soho Boulton's correspondence with Benjamin 
Franklin concerning fire-engine Boulton's model Correspondence with 
Dr. Darwin and Dr. Roebuck Watt visits Soho First meeting of 
Boulton and Watt Correspondence of Boulton and Watt, and of Dr. 
Small and Watt Dr. Pioebuck visits Boulton Watt's anxiety for 
Boulton to join him Watt's discouragements His continued experi- 
ments and their failure Watt engineer for the Monkland Canal Com- 
mercial panic Watt loses employment as canal engineer Roebuck's 
failure Terms of proposed partnership between Watt, Small, and 
Boulton Roebuck's share in Watt's engine transferred to Boulton 
Watt's arrival at Birmingham 182-198 


Characteristics of Matthew Boulton Contrast between him and Watt 
Boulton's friends Watt's engine at Soho Boulton's views of engine 
business The Kinneil engine re-erected at Soho Works successfully 
Inquiries for pumping-engines from the mining districts Proposed exten- 
sion of patent by an Act Watt in London Death of Dr. Small 
Watt invited to Russia Application to Parliament for extension of 
engine patent Application opposed Watt's arguments Act obtained 
Watt returns to Birmingham The manufacture of engines begun 
The Wilkinsons First iron vessel 199-213 


Watt's house, Harper's Hill First order for engines Boulton's activity 
- The London engineers prophesy the failure of Watt's engine Watt 
revisits Glasgow His second marriage Terms of partnership between 
Boulton and Watt Orders from Scotland for engines Boulton pressed 
with work and anxiety Watt returns to Soho with his wife Order 
for engine for Ting-tang and Chacewater mines, Cornwall Watt and 
the Shadwell Waterworks Committee Stratford-le-Bow engine Diffi- 
culties with workmen at Soho, and with unskilled enginemen Expansive 
working . 214-229 



Inefficiency of the Newcomen pumping-engines More orders from Cornwall 
Watt in Cornwall United Mines district Mines drowned Watt 
and Jonathan Hornblower Mrs. Watt's account of Cornwall Chace- 
water engine finished Its successful working Watt's embarrassments 
and financial difficulties Boulton's courage and perseverance, and Fother- 
gili's despondency Fire at Soho Engine royalty on savings of fuel 
Altercations with adventurers Watt's frequent calls for Boulton's help 
Boulton's harassments Proceeds to Cornwall Watt's return to Bir- 
mingham His despondency Boulton sustains the firm Orders for 
engines from abroad William Murdock, his excellencies of character and 
ability First interview with Boulton and engagement Sent to Corn- 
wall His mode of dealing with the captains Watt's altercations with 
the Cornishmen His reliance on Boulton Altercation with Trevithick 

Page 230-260 


Lieutenant Henderson in Cornwall Boulton's financial embarrassments 
increase Boulton and Fothergill The " Soho pictures " Watt's 
letter-copying machine Boulton pushes the machine Demand for 
copying-presses More financial difficulties Watt's sufferings and me- 
lancholy More Cornish engines wanted Engine-dues Boulton cheers 
Watt Mining adventurers' meetings Boulton and Watt take shares 
The mines Boulton organises the mining business Boulton's house at 
Cosgarne, Cornwall Mrs. Watt describes her husband's miseries and 
weakness The engine patent threatened by the Cornish men Watt on 
patent right The Birmingham Copper Company Boulton improves 
. engine-boilers by introducing tubes His MSS. and drawings concerning 
mechanical and scientific experiments His indefatigable industry 



Watt again visits Cornwall Rotary motion The crank-engine at Soho 
Theft of the invention Matthew Washborough Smeaton and steam- 
power Rotary-motion engine Boulton and Watt's cares Evasions 
of the engine patent The Hornblowers' engine Watt's new inventions 

Boulton's confidence in the engine Air-engine Watt's fears for 
the patent The rotary engine invented New improvements intro- 
duced The equalising beam Watt's ill health and humour Various 
expedients for producing circular motion Murdock's sun-and-planet 
motion Patent taken for the reciprocating expansive engine Troubles 
with workmen Murdock's efficiency and popularity Watt's despondency 

The firm's London agent's house burnt Gloomy prospects of the 
mining trade 285-316 



Financial position of the firm Rotary engines for mills Bonlton's battles 
with the Cornish adventurers His life in Cornwall Murdock and the 
miners The Hornblowers' engine at Radstoke Watt at Bristol 
Major Tucker Steam mills Rotary motion applied The first rotative 
engines Pumping-engines for the Fens Boulton's health fails He 
visits Scotland, Carron ironworks, Lord Dundonalcl His extensive corre- 
spondence Grumbling in Cornwall Concessions to the miners 
Press of work at Soho Watt's invention of the parallel motion and the 
governor Murdock's model locomotive Boulton's praise of Murdock 
More pumping-engines wanted Boulton's affection for his children 
Letter to his son His scientific recreations Domestic enjoyment at 
Cosgarne Page 317-341 


Boulton's action in commercial politics His interview with Pitt Agitation 
against Pitt's commercial policy The " Irish resolutions " Watt on 
free commerce Is opposed to political agitation Combination against 
patents Fluctuations in the business at Soho Engine orders from 
various quarters The Cornish copper-miners The Copper Company 
formed, and Boulton's part in it Riots in Cornwall Boulton's life 
threatened The esteem in which he was held in Cornwall His intimacy 
with the Quakers The Albion Mill scheme The double-acting engines 
for the mill Ill-success of the undertaking Albion Mill burnt down 
Demand for rotative engines Want of skill and misconduct of workmen 
Wedgwood's advice to Watt Speculativeness of Boulton His 
embarrassments Watt's caution in investing Boulton's health fails 
His depressed spirits Generosity to Watt 342-366 


Friends of Boulton and Watt The Lunar Society Provincial scientific 
societies Distinguished associates of the Lunar Society Dr. Darwin 
Dr. Priestley, his gifts and accomplishments Josiah Wedgwood 
Meetings and discussions of the Lunar Society Dr. Priestley's specula- 
tions and experiments Composition of water, Watt and Cavendish 
Bleaching by chlorine Sun-pictures Saint-Fond at Birmingham, his 
descriptions of Watt and Priestley Decline of the Lunar Society 367-385 


Increasing debasement of the coinage Punishments for counterfeiting 
Birmingham coiners Boulton refuses orders for base money Executes 
a contract for coin for the East India Company Applies the steam-engine 
to coining Improves the coining apparatus Political action in relation 


to base coin Strikes model coins for inspection of the Privy Council 
Opposed by the Mint authorities Presents model coins to the king 
Executes coinage orders for foreign governments His success Medalling 

Description of the Soho mint Large consumption of copper in coining 

Threatened attack on Soho by a mob Boulton executes the new 
copper coinage for Great Britain Erects the new Government Mint on 
Tower Hill, and mints for foreign countries Watt's estimate of Boulton's 
improvements in coining Page 386-399 


Prosperity of Soho Kelaxed strain upon Boulton and Watt Watt's 
pleasure tours His interview with the king at Windsor Matthew 
Robinson Boulton, and James Watt, jun., join their fathers in the business 

their character and attainments Boulton and young Watt Young 
Boulton's return from Paris The French revolution The Birmingham 
riots Priestley's house destroyed Unpopularity of the " Philosophers " 

Young Watt and the Jacobins Watt's flight from Paris Denounced 
by Burke Mr. Watt's fear for his son's safety The sons join their 
fathers in partnership Important services of the young partners 
Evasion of engine-dues, resistance of the Cornish mining companies 
Legal proceedings and favourable judgments Progress of the engine 
business William Murdock His valuable services His engine 


improvements Return to Soho Invents gas-lighting Winsor's 
wonderful schemes Murdock's various inventions Substitute for 
isinglass, his idea of power wasted in streets, atmospheric railway, &c. 
His death 400-433 


First attempts to construct steamboats All attempts fail until Watt's con- 
densing engine invented The locomotive of Watt and Murdock William 
Symington His model locomotive Symington at Edinburgh Steam- 
engine for canal-boats proposed by Symington Miller's paddle-boats 
Symington, Miller, and Taylor co-operate to produce a steamboat Sir 
John Dalrymple's inquiries of Boulton on the same subject Boulton's 
reply Symington's engine finished and fitted in Miller's boat Successful 
experiment Symington makes another engine, further experiments 
Miller applies to Boulton arid Watt to join speculation Watt's reply 
Symington's engine for the * Charlotte Dundas ' Symington's success 
frustrated Fulton and Bell inspect the ' Charlotte Dundas ' Fulton's 
steamboat on the Seine His 'Nautilus' His application to James 
Watt, jun. Boulton's caution, his letter to Lord Hawkesbury Fulton 
orders an engine from Soho for the 'Clermont' Its success Henry 
Bell's steamboat 'Comet' Development of steam-navigation First 
rendered practicable through Watt's inventions 434-455 



Watt withdraws from Soho Bcmlton continues his interest in business 
His patent for raising water The burglary at Soho Sir Walter Scott 
and Boulton Watt in retirement Search for investments Purchases 
land Makes a foreign tour Death of Mrs. Keir Painful bereave- 
ments Death of Dr. Black Deaths of members of the Lunar Society 
Watt's family bereavements Watt's studies on the inhalation of gas 

Gregory Watt, his brilliant talents His friendship with Humphry 
Davy His excursions and tours His scientific pursuits His illness 
and death Davy on Gregory's death Death of Professor Eobison 
Watt's estimate of EobisOn Boulton's last days, his death and funeral 
His character Opinions of his contemporaries, Boswell and others, 
concerning him Attachment of the workmen His Mutual Assurance 
Society for the workmen His powers of organisation His business 
qualities His strength, courage, and perseverance in fighting the battle 
of the steam-engine Watt's estimate of Boulton Boulton's generosity 

Page 456-487 


Watt's closing years His pursuits His machine for copying statuary 
Medallions of his friends His garret workshop Mrs. Watt's rule over 
her husband Tenacious retention of his faculties Is consulted by the 
Glasgow Waterworks Company His visits to Cheltenham and other 
places Growth and improvement of Glasgow Watt's interview with 
the brothers Hart His conversational powers Sir Walter Scott's pane- 
gyric on Watt His extensive and varied knowledge His anecdotal powers 

Fondness for novels Description of him by visitors at Heathfield 
His last improvements in the sculpture-copying machine His last illness 
and peaceful death Monumental honours Lord Brougham's inscription 

His qualities and genius His modesty His close observation 
Facts and theory Watt and Smeaton compared Universal application 
of the steam-engine Conclusion 488-514 

INDEX 515 





Edward, second Marquis of Wor- 
cester 2 

Ancient Greek ^Eolipile 3 

Branca's Machine 7 

De Caus's Steam Apparatus .. .. 9 

Kuins of Raglan Castle 26 

Dionysius Papin 31 

Ancient Paddle-Boat 36 

Thomas Savery 41 

Section of Savery's Paddle-Boat . . 43 

Savery's Fire-Engine 52 

HuelVor 55 

Newcomen's House, Dartmouth . . 60 

Newcomen's Atmospheric Engine . . 67 

Ruins of Wheal Fortune 


Polgooth 71 

Jonathan Hull's Steam-Boat . . . . 73 

Dartmouth from the Harbour . . 76 

Greenock and the Clyde, 1865 . . 78 

Greenock Harbour, 1768 .. .. 79 

Crawfordsburn House, Greenock .. 80 

James Watt Tavern, Greenock . . 87 

Trongate, Glasgow 97 

Inner Quadrangle, Glasgow College 107 
Isometric View of Glasgow College, 

1693 108 

The Broomielaw in 1760 .. .. 116 

Professor Robison 117 

Papin's Digester 120 

The Newcomen Model 121 

Watt's House, Delftfield Lane .. 126 

Watt's first Improved Apparatus . . 130 

Dr. Joseph Black 132 

Kinneil House 142 

Outhouse behind Kinneil . . . . 148 

Hamilton Bridge 156 

Port Glasgow 158 

Birmingham 160 

Soho Manufactory 169 

Soho House . 177 

to face Title-page 

to face page 15!) 


Watt's House, Harper's Hill .. ..214 
Map of United Mines District . . 231 
Watt's Pumping-Engine for Mines 23(5 

Redruth, High Street 238 

Cardozos Pumping-Engine . . . . 260 
United Mines District and St. Day 261 

Cosgarne House 275 

Entrance to ditto 284 

The " Waggon and Horses,'' Hands- 
worth 285 

The Crank as applied in the Foot- 
Lathe 287 

Interior of the " Waggon and 

Horses " 288 

Old Engine-House, Dalcoath . . . . 306 

Sun-and-Planet Motion 309 

" Old Bess " Engine 326 

The parallel Motion 334 

The Governor 335 

Polgooth Engine-House .... . . 339 

Double Acting Engine, Albion Mill 355 

Dr. Priestley 370 

Site of Soho Mint 399 

Burning of Dr. Priestley's House . . 411 

William Murdock 422 

Murdock's House, Handsworth . . 433 
The " Comet " passing Dumbarton 453 
Watt's House, Heathfield . . . . 456 
Boulton's Monument in Hands- 
worth Church 478 

The Garret at Heathfield . . . . 494 

Miller's Triple Vessel 437 

Symington's first Steamboat-En- 
gine 441 

Miller's Experimental Steamboat . . 442 
Machinery of the ' Charlotte Dun- 

das' 447 

Water-Pipe in the Bed of the Clyde 497 
Watt's Chapel and Monument, 

Handsworth Church 508 

Handsworth Church 514 



[By T. D. Scott after Vandyck.] 






WHEN Matthew Boultoii entered into partnership with 
James Watt, he gave up the ormolu business in which 
he had before been principally engaged. He had been 
accustomed to supply George III. with articles of this 
manufacture, but ceased to wait upon the King for 
orders after embarking in his new enterprise. Some 
time after, he appeared at the Royal Levee and was at 
once recognised by the King. " Ha ! Boulton," said he, 
" it is long since we have seen you at Court. Pray, 
what business are you now engaged in?" "I am 
engaged, your Majesty, in the production of a commodity 
which is the desire of kings." " And what is that ? what 

B 2 


is that?" asked the King. " POWER, your Majesty," 
replied Boulton, who proceeded to give a description of 
the great uses to which the steam-engine was capable 
of being applied. 

If the theory of James Mill l be true, that government 
is founded on the desire which exists among men to 
secure and enjoy the products of labour, by whatsoever 
means produced, probably the answer of Boulton to 
George III. was not far from correct. In the infancy of 
nations this desire manifested itself in the enforcement 
of labour by one class upon another, in the various forms 
of slavery and serfdom. To evade the more onerous 
and exhausting kinds of bodily toil, men were impelled 
to exercise their ingenuity in improving old tools and 
inventing new ones, while, to increase production, they 
called the powers of nature to their aid. They tamed 
the horse, and made him their servant ; they caught the 
winds as they blew, and the waters as they fell, and 
applied their powers to the driving of mills and machines 
of various kinds. 

But there was a power greater by far than that of 
horses, wind, or water, a power of which poets and 
philosophers had long dreamt, capable of being applied 
alike to the turning of mills, the raising of water, the 
rowing of ships, the driving of wheel-carriages, and 
the performance of labour in its severest forms. As 
early as the thirteenth century, Roger Bacon described 
this great new power in terms which, interpreted by 
the light of the present day, could only apply to the 
power of Steam. He anticipated that " chariots may 
be made so as to be moved with incalculable force, with- 
out any beast drawing them," and that " engines of navi- 
gation might be made without oarsmen, so that the 
greatest river and sea ships, with only one man to steer 
them, may sail swifter than if they were fully manned." 

1 Article " Government," in ' Encyclopaedia Britannica.' 


But Bacon was a seer rather than an expounder, a phi- 
losophic poet rather than an inventor ; and it was left to 
men of future times to find out the practical methods of 
applying the wonderful power which he had imagined 
and foretold. 

The enormous power latent in water exposed to heat 
had long been known. Its discovery must have been 
almost contemporaneous with that of fire. The expansive 
force of steam would be obvious on setting the first par- 
tially-closed pipkin upon the fire. If closed, the lid 
would be blown off; and even if the vessel were of iron, 
it would soon burst with appalling force. Was it possible 
to render so furious and apparently unmanageable an 
agent, docile and tractable ? Even in modern times, the 
explosive force of steam could only be compared to that 
of gunpowder ; and it is a curious fact, that both De 
Hautefeuille and Papin proposed to employ gunpowder 
in preference to steam in driving a piston in a cylinder, 
considering it to be the more manageable power of the 

Although it appears from the writings of the Greek 
physician, Hero, who flourished at Alexandria more than 
a century before Christ, that steam was well known to 
the ancients, it was employed by them merely as a toy, 
or as a means of exciting the wonder of the credulous. 
In his treatise on Pneumatics, Hero gives descriptions 
of various methods of employing steam or heated air 
for the purpose of producing apparently magical effects ; 
from which we infer that the agency of heat was em- 
ployed by the heathen priests in the performance of 
their rites. By one of the devices which he describes, 
water was apparently changed into wine ; by another, 
the . temple doors were opened by fire placed on the 
sacrificial altar ; while by a third, the sacrificial vessel 
was so contrived as to flow only when* the money of the 
votary was cast into it. Another ingenious device con- 
sisted in the method employed to pour out libations. 


(/HAP. 1. 

Upon -the altar-fire being kindled, the air in the interior 
became expanded and, pressing upon the surface of the 
liquid which it contained, forced it up a connecting- 
pipe, and so out of the sacrificial cup. The libation 
was made, and the people cried, " A miracle ! " But 
Hero knew the trick, and explained the arrangement 
by which it was accomplished : it forms the subject of 
his eleventh theorem. 

The most interesting of the other devices described 
by Hero is the whirling ^Eolipile, or ball of ^Eolus, 
which, though but a toy, possessed the properties of a 
true steam-engine, and was most probably the first ever 
invented. As Hero's book professes to be, for the most 
part, but a collection of the devices handed down by 
former writers, and as he does not lay claim to its in- 
vention, it is probable the ^Eolipile may Rave been 
known long before his time. The machine consisted of 
a hollow globe of metal, moving on its axis, and com- 
municating with a caldron of water placed underneath. 
The globe was provided with one or more tubes pro- 
jecting from it, closed at the ends, but open on one 
side. When a fire was lit under the caldron, and the 
steam was raised, it filled the globe, and, projecting 
itself against the air through the openings in the tubes, 
the reactive force thus produced caused the globe to spin 
round upon its axis " as if it were animated from within 
by a living spirit." 1 

The mechanical means by which these various objects 
were accomplished, as explained by Hero, show that the 
ancients were acquainted with the ordinary expedients 
for communicating motion, such as the wheel and axle, 
spur-wheels, toothed pinions and sectors, the lever-beam, 

1 The principle of the ^Eolipile is 
the same as that embodied in Avery 
and Ruthven's engines for the produc- 
tion of rotary motion. " These en- 
gines," says Bourne, " are more expen- 

sive in steam than ordinary engines, 
and travel at an inconvenient speed ; 
but in other respects they are quite 
as effectual, and their construction is 
extremely simple and inexpensive." 



and other well-known expedients ; while they also knew 
of the cylinder and piston, the three-way cock, slide- 
valves and valve-clacks, 1 and many other ingenious 
mechanical details which have been reinvented in mo- 
dern times. 

Hero's book lay hidden in manuscript and buried in 
libraries, until the revival of learning in Italy in the 
sixteenth century, when a translation of it appeared at 
Bologna in 1547. By that time printing had been in- 
vented ; and the multiplication of copies being thereby 
rendered easy, the book was soon brought under the notice 
of inquiring men throughout Europe. The work must, 
indeed, have excited 
an extraordinary de- 
gree of interest ; in 
proof of vttiich it may 
be inenti oned that eight 
different editions, in 
different languages, 
were published within 
a century. The minds 
of the curious and the 
scientific were thus di- 
rected to the subject of 
steam as a motive 
power. But for a long 
time they never got beyond the idea of 
Hero's ^Eolipile, though they endeavoured 
to apply the rotary motion produced by it 
in different ways. Thus, a German writer 
suggested that it should be used to turn 
spits, instead of turnspit dogs ; and Branca, j 
the Italian architect, used the steam jet 
projected from a brazen head to drive an apparatus 


1 See Bennet Woodcraft's ' Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria,' from the 
original Greek. London, 1851. 


contrived by him for pounding drugs. The jet forced 
round the vanes of a wheel, so as to produce a rotary 
motion, and this, being communicated to other wheels, 
set in motion a rod and stamper, after the manner shown 
in the preceding cut. 

Solomon de Caus was another of the speculative in- 
quirers whose attention was drawn to the subject of steam 
by the publication of Hero's book. De Caus was a 
native of Normandy, and for some time studied the pro- 
fession of an architect in Italy ; from whence he returned 
to France early in the seventeenth century. Religious 
persecution was then raging, and, being a Protestant, 
he was glad to take refuge from it in England. He 
entered the service of the Prince of Wales, by whom he 
was for a time employed in designing grottoes, fountains, 
and hydraulic ornaments for the Palace Gardens at Rich- 
mond. While occupied in that capacity he gave lessons 
in design to the Princess Elizabeth ; and on her marriage 
to the Elector Palatine he accompanied her to Heidel- 
berg, to take charge of the Castle gardens there. It was 
while residing at Heidelberg that De Caus wrote his 
well-known book on hydraulics, which was published at 
Frankfort in 1615. l 

One of De Caus's expedients for raising water con- 
sisted of an apparatus in which he proposed to employ 
the expansive power of steam for the purpose. In 
Hero's book it is shown how a column of water may be 
thrown up by means of compressed air ; and De Caus 
merely proposed to employ steam instead of air. His 
apparatus was very simple. It consisted of a spheri- 
cal vessel fitted with two pipes, one of them provided 
with a cock and funnel ; the other, which reached down 
to near the bottom of the vessel, being open at the top 
to the external air. When the vessel was filled with 

1 Lcs Eaisons des Forces Mou- 
Vflntes, avec diverses machines tant 
utiles quo plaisantes, &c., par Solomon 

do Cans, Inp;e'nieiir ct Architecte du 
Roy. Frankfort, 1615. 



water and a fire lit underneath, the water was forced 

up the open tube in a jet, greater or less in proportion 

to the elasticity of the steam. When 

both tubes were tightly closed, so 

that neither steam nor water could 

escape, the heat, says De Caus, 

would shortly cause a compression 

from within so violent that " the 

ball will burst in pieces, with a noise 

like a petard." 

It will be observed that there was 
little mechanical contrivance, and 
no practical use in this apparatus ; it 
merely furnished an illustration of 
the extraordinary force of pent-up 
steam, and that was all. Though De Caus made many 
experiments with his steam-vessel, he never succeeded 
in making if, indeed, he ever attempted to make a 
working steam-engine of any kind. It is not impro- 
bable that he was dismayed, as others were, by the 
apparent violence of the imprisoned monster ; and it 
needed a more ingenious head than his to contrive a 
method of rendering him docile, and making him go 
quietly in harness. 1 


1 De Caus eventually returned to 
France, and was appointed engineer to 
the King. During the later years of 
his life he was employed in carrying 
out plans for the better supply of 
Paris with water. The story so often 
told of De Cans having been shut up 
in the Bicetre turns out to be a fic- 
tion. Though a Huguenot, he was 
not persecuted by Richelieu, but was, 
on the contrary, employed by him ; 
and in 1624 he dedicated to that 
prelate his treatise entitled ' Horologes 
Solitaires.' Mr. Charles Read, editor 
of several interesting memoirs of early 
French Protestants, has recently 
brought to light and published in the 
' Gazette des Tribunaux ' the proofs 
of the patronage of De Caus by 

Richelieu, and reproduced the original 
documents, which he discovered slum- 
bering in the dust of the State Records 
at Paris. In 1621 De Caus is found 
proposing to Louis XIII. to adopt 
measures for cleansing Paris and the 
faubourgs of dirt and uncleanness, 
by a system of reservoirs established 
at elevated points, and by fountains at 
various places which he indicated. 
The king and his council sent the 
propositions to the chief magistrate of 
Paris, and Mr. Read transcribes the 
deliberation which took place on the 
subject at the City Council, as handed 
down in the records deposited in the 
Imperial Archives. De Caus died at 
Paris, and was buried in the church 
of La Trinite' in February, 1626. 


It is probable that the first contriver of a working 
steam-engine was Edward, second Marquis of Worcester, 
one of the first and most illustrious of a long line of 
unfortunate inventors. The career of that nobleman- 
born though he was to high rank and great estate was 
chequered and sad in no ordinary degree. Edward 
Somerset was the eldest son of Henry Lord Herbert, 
afterwards Earl of Worcester, and consequently heir to 
that title. He was born in London in 1601. His early 
years were principally spent at Eaglan Castle, his 
father's country seat, where his education was carefully 
attended to. In the course of his pupilage he made 
occasional visits to the continent, accompanied by his 
tutor, for the purpose of acquiring that degree of 
polish and culture considered necessary for a person 
of his social position. On the accession of his father to 
the Earldom of Worcester, in 1627, Edward became 
Lord Herbert by courtesy ; and in the following year 
he married, and went to reside at Eaglan Castle. 

From an early period of his life Lord Herbert took 
especial pleasure in mechanical studies, and in the 
course of his foreign tours he visited and examined the 
famous works of construction abroad ; for as yet there 
were none such in England. On settling down at 
Raglan, he proceeded to set up a laboratory, or work- 
shop, wherein to indulge his mechanical tastes, and 
perhaps to while away the tedium of a country life. 
To assist him in his labours, he engaged a clever foreign 
mechanic, named Caspar Kaltoff, who remained in his 
service for many years, and materially helped him in 
his various contrivances. Among the works executed 
by Lord Herbert and his assistant at Raglan, was the 
hydraulic apparatus by means of which the castle was 
supplied with water. From an incidental reference to 
the "water-works" by a contemporary writer, we learn 
that they consisted of a series of engines and wheels, by 
means of which water was raised through pipes to a 




cistern placed on the summit of the central tower. 1 It 
is probable that the planning and construction of these 
works induced Lord Herbert to prosecute the study of 
hydraulics, and to enter upon that series of experiments 
as to the power of steam which eventually led to the 
contrivance of his " Water-commanding Engine." 

In pursuits and studies such as these, Lord Herbert 
spent about seven years at Raglan Castle. But his wife 
dying in 1635, the place became connected in his mind 
with too painful associations, and he shortly after left 
it to reside in London. On his arrival there, he pro- 
ceeded to put to the practical test a plan of perpetual 
motion which he had long studied, and now thought 
he had brought to perfection. He accordingly had 
his self-moving wheel 2 set up in the Tower; but 
though it moved, its motion did not prove perpetual, 
and it shortly dropped out of sight, to be no more 
heard of. 

1 Dr. Bayly, in his ' Apothegms ' ! 
(1682), p. 87, describes the fright \ 
given to some Puritan visitors on the j 
occasion of their searching Raglan I 
Castle for arms, the Marquis of Wor- > 
cester being a known Papist. " Hav- 
ing carried them up and down the 
castle, his lordship at length brought 
them over a high bridge that arched 
over the moat between the castle and 
the great tower, wherein the Lord 
Herbert had lately contrived certain 
water-works, which, when the several 
engines and wheels were set agoing, 
much quantity of water through the 
hollow conveyances of the aqueducts 
was to be let down from the top of 
an high tower." When all was ready 
for the surprise, the water was let in, 
and it made such a hideous and fearful 
noise by reason of the hollowness of 
the tower, and the neighbouring 
echoes of the castle, that the men 
stood amazed and terror-struck. At 
this point up came a man staring and 
running, who exclaimed, " Look to 
yourselves, my masters, for the lions 
are got loose." Whereupon the Puri- 

tans fled down the narrow staircase in 
such haste that they lost footing and 
fell, tumbling one over the other, and 
never halted until they had got the 
castle out of sight. Mr. Dircks, in 
his able and exhaustive ' Life, Times, 
and Scientific Labours of the Marquis 
of Worcester,' London, 1865, says 
that this hydraulic apparatus " pro- 
bably depended for its operation on 
the influence of heat from burning 
fuel acting on a suitably constructed 
boiler, and so arranged as to be able 
to apply the expansive force of steam 
to the driving of water through ver- 
tical pipes to a considerable eleva- 
tion." But it does not seem to us 
that the facts stated are sufficient to 
warrant this assumption. 

2 Mr. Dircks says " it was a ma- 
chine consisting of a wheel 14 feet 
in diameter, carrying forty weights 
of forty pounds each, and is supposed 
to have rotated on an axle supported 
on two pillars or upright frames," as 
indicated in the 'Century of Inven- 
tions,' Art. 56. 


After the lapse of four years, Lord Herbert again 
married, taking to wife the Lady Margaret, second 
daughter of the Earl of Thomond. In the year after his 
second marriage, the celebrated Long Parliament began 
its sittings. Questions of great public import were 
agitating the minds of thinking men, and the nation 
was gradually becoming divided into two hostile parties, 
soon to be arrayed against each other in deadly strife. 
A Eoyalist and a Roman Catholic like his father, Lord 
Herbert at once ranged himself on the side of the King. 
On the outbreak of the Civil War, we find both father 
and son actively employed in mustering forces, and pre- 
paring to hold the western counties against the Parlia- 
ment. Eaglan Castle was strongly garrisoned, and for- 
tifications were thrown up around it, so as to render it 
secure against assault. The Earl, now Marquis of Wor- 
cester, was appointed Generalissimo of the Western 
Forces, while his son, Lord Herbert, was made General 
of South Wales. From this office he was shortly after 
called by the King, who, creating him Earl of Gla- 
morgan, despatched him on a mission to Ireland, with 
the object of stirring up the loyalists of that kingdom, 
and inducing them to come to his help. This delicate 
office he is said to have performed with more zeal than 
discretion. Indeed, the studious habits of his early life 
must in a measure have unfitted him for the conduct of 
so important an affair ; and the bungle he made of it 
was such that the King felt himself under the necessity 
of repudiating the acts which the Earl had done in his 

It is unnecessary that we should follow the fortunes 
of the house of Raglan in the course of the civil war. 
Suffice it to say that the King's cause was utterly lost ; 
that Raglan Castle was besieged, taken, and dismantled ; 
that the Marquis of Worcester, having advanced to the 
King at different times as much as 122,500/., had com- 
pletely impoverished himself; and that when the Earl 


succeeded to his father's title, and became second Mar- 
quis of Worcester, in 1646, he inherited an exhausted 
exchequer, a confiscated estate, and a ruined home. 
The services he had rendered to the King were remem- 
bered against him ; and to escape the vengeance of his 
political enemies he took refuge in France. There he 
lived in poverty and in exile for a period of about five 
years. At length, drawn to England by the powerful 
attractions of wife and family, and probably also com- 
missioned to perform a service for the exiled Charles II., 
the Marquis secretly visited London in 1655, where he 
was shortly after detected, apprehended, and imprisoned 
in the Tower. He sought and found solace, during 
his confinement, in study and contemplation, reverting 
to his early experiments in mechanics ; and he occupied 
the long and weary hours in committing to paper 
descriptions of his many ingenious devices, which he 
afterwards published in his ' Century of Inventions/ 
The Marquis's old and skilled mechanic, Caspar Kaltoff, 
continued faithful to him in his adversity, and was per- 
mitted to hold free communication with him ; from 
which we infer that his imprisonment was not of a very 
rigid character. 

After lying in the Tower for about two years, 
the Marquis was liberated on bail, in October, 1654, 
when he proceeded to take steps to erect his long-con- 
templated Water-commanding Engine. Even while a 
prisoner, we find him negotiating with the then owner 
of Yauxhall for its purchase, with a view to the esta- 
blishment there of a school of skilled industry ; thus 
anticipating by nearly two centuries the School of Mines 
and Manufactures at South Kensington. In the month 
preceding his enlargement we find Hartlib writing to 
the Hon. Eobert Boyle, " The Earl of Worcester is 
buying Fauxliall from Mr. Treiichard, to bestow the use 
of that house upon Caspar Calchoff and his son as long* 
as they shall live, for he intends to make it a College of 


Artizaris." 1 His main difficulty, however, consisted in 
raising the necessary means for carrying his excellent 
project into effect. He was, indeed, so reduced in his 
circumstances as to be under the necessity of petitioning 
his political enemies for the bare means of living ; and 
we find Cromwell, in the course of the year following 
his liberation from prison, issuing a warrant for the pay- 
ment to him of three pounds a week " for his better main- 
tenance." The Marquis also tried the experiment of 
levying contributions from his friends ; but they were, 
for the most part, as poor as himself. He next tried the 
wealthy men of the Parliamentary party, and succeeded 
in obtaining several advances of money from Colonel 
Copley, who took an active interest in the prosecu- 
tion of various industrial undertakings. 2 The following 
letter from the Marquis to Copley shows the straits to 
which he was reduced : 

"DEAR FRIEND, I kiiowe not with what face to desire a curtesie 
from you, since 1 have not yet payed you the five powndes, and the 
iriayne businesse soe long protracted, whereby my reality and 
kindiiesse should with thankfullnesse appeare ; for though the least 
I intende you is to make up the somme already promised to a 
thousand powndes yearly, or a share ammounting to four more, 
which, to nominate before the perfection of the woorke, were but an 
indimduum vagum, and, therefore, I deferre it, and upon noe other 
score. Yet in this interim, my disappointments are soe great, as 
that I am forced to begge, if you could possible, eyther to helpe me 
with tenne powndes to this bearer, or to make use of the coache, 
and to goe to Mr. Clerke, and if he could this day help me to fifty 
powndes, then to paye your selfe the five powndes 1 owe you out of 
them. The Alderman has taken three days' time to consider of it. 
Pardon the great trouble I give you, which I doubt not but in time 
to deserve, by really appearing 

" Your most thankfull friend, 

" 2Sth March, 1656. 
" To my honoured friend, Collonel CHRISTOPHER COPPLEY, these." 

The original of this letter is endorsed " My Lord of 

1 ' Weld's .Royal Society,' i. 53. 2 ' Industrial Biography,' p. 57. 


Worcester's letter about my share in his engine," from 
which it would appear that the Marquis induced his 
friends to advance him money on the promise of a cer- 
tain proportion of shares in the undertaking. He also 
pressed his invention upon the notice of Government, 
representing that he was in a position to do his High- 
ness the Protector " more service than any one subject 
of his three nations." But neither the Protector nor his 
Ministers took any further notice of the Marquis or his 
project. It is probable that they regarded him as a 
bore, and his water-commanding engine as the mere 
dream of a projector. 

The Marquis himself continued to be as confident as ever 
of the ultimate success of his scheme. He believed that 
it would yet realise him an immense fortune. Writing 
of the engine to the Earl of Lotherdale, he described it 
as " the greatest invention for profit that I ever yet 
heard of vouchsafed to a man, especially so unworthy 
and ignorant as I am." But the Marquis was not so 
humble as he affected to be, believing in his heart that 
he had invented, without exception, the most wonderful 
machine of the age. Still it remained a mere project. 
Without the means of erecting an engine, it promised 
to remain such; and all his efforts to raise the necessary 
funds had thus far proved unavailing. 

The Restoration of Charles II., in 1660, revived his 
hopes. Now that the King enjoyed his own again, the 
Marquis believed that he, too, would come into posses- 
sion of the means for carrying out his project, For 
thirteen years he had lived in exile, in prison, and in 
poverty : but brighter days had dawned at last ; and 
he indulged in the hope that compensation would at 
length be made to him for his sufferings in the cause of 
the Stuarts, and that he would now bask in the sunshine 
of Roval favour. He made all haste to represent his case 
to the king, and to claim restitution for his heavy losses 
in the late war. But there were thousands of like sup- 



pliants all over the kingdom, and redress came slowly. 
The Marquis was, however, shortly put in possession of 
such parts of his estates as had not been sold by the Pro- 
tector ; but he found them for the most part cleared of 
their timber, and comparatively valueless. The castle 
at Raglan was in ruins. He himself was heavily 
burdened with debt, and his creditors were becoming 
increasingly importunate for money. It was thus long 
before he could shake himself clear of his embarrass- 
ments, and devote himself to the great object of his life, 
the prosecution of his water-commanding engine. 

One of his first cares, on the partial recovery of his 
property, was to obtain a legal protection for his in- 
ventions ; and in the year following the Restoration we 
find him taking out a patent for four of his schemes, 
a watch or clock, guns or pistols, an engine to give 
security to a coach, and a boat to sail against wind and 
tide. In the session of Parliament, 1662-3, he obtained 
an Act securing to himself the profits of the water- 
commanding engine. About the same time he gave to 
the world his famous ' Century,' 1 which contains his 
own account of his various inventions. In the second 
dedication of the book to the members of both Houses 
of Parliament he states that he had already expended 
the large sum of 10,000/. on experiments; but he 
professed that he esteemed himself sufficiently rewarded 
by the passing of " the Act of the Water-commanding 
Engine," and, his debts once paid, he intended to devote 
the rest of his life to the service of his King and country. 
The ' Century ' is a mere summary of things alleged to 
have been tried and perfected, conveyed in vague and 
mysterious language, and calculated rather to excite 

1 'A Century of the Names and 
Scantlings of such Inventions as at 
present 1 can call to mind to have 
tried and perfected, which (my former 
Notes being lost) I have, at the in- 

stance of a powerful Friend, en- 
deavoured now, in the year 1055, to 
set these down in such a way as may 
sufficiently instruct me to put any of 
them in practice.' London, 1G63. 




wonder than to furnish information. The descriptions 
were unaccompanied by plans or drawings, so that we 
can only surmise the means by which he proposed to 
carry his schemes into effect. It is possible that he 
purposely left the descriptions of his inventions vague, 
in order that he might not be anticipated in their 
application ; for it is certain that at the time the book 
was written the Marquis had not taken out his first 
patent, nor obtained the Act securing to him the profits 
of his engine. 

There can, however, be no doubt that, vague and 
mysterious though the ' Scantlings' be, they indicate a 
knowledge of mechanical principles considerably in 
advance of the age, as well as a high degree of me- 
chanical ingenuity. The hundred Articles into which 
the book is divided contain suggestions, in shorthand 
descriptions, of things so various as ship -destroy ing 
machines, telegraphs, combination and escutcheon locks, 1 
improvements in fire-arms, universal alphabets, seals and 
watches, various kinds of cipher, a boat rowing against 
wind and tide, automata, and mechanical appliances of 
different kinds, including the u stupendious and- semi- 
omnipotent" engine. Some of them read like descrip- 
tions of conjuring tricks, such as the artificial bird, 
the hour water-ball, the flying man, the brazen head, 
the dicing-box, and various automata. Others are full 

1 The writer of the elaborate article 
" Lock," in the supplement to the 
' Penny Cyclopedia ' (ii. 217), in de- 
scribing the combination lock, says : 
" The Marquis of Worcester, in whose 
'Century of Inventions' several dif- 
ferent kinds of lock, which lay claim 
to the most marvellous properties, are 
enumerated, would appear, from his 
72nd article, to have devised an im- 
provement on this apparatus ; as he 
refers to * an escutcheon to be placed 
before any of these locks,' one of the 
properties of which he describes as 
being that ' the owner, though a 

woman, may, with her delicate hand, 
vary the ways of coming to open the 
lock ten millions of times beyond the 
knowledge of the smith that made it, 
or of me who invented it.' The details 
of this invention are not given ; but in 
the third volume of the ' Transactions 
of the Society of Arts,' pp. 160-5, is 
an escutcheon of similar character, 
invented by Mr. Marshall, and re- 
warded by the Society in 1784. The 
details of this ingenious contrivance 
are fully given in the volume referred 




CHAP. .1. 

of prophetic insight, and contain anticipations of me- 
chanical marvels, which, however wonderful they may 
at that time have appeared, have since been fully realised. 
The style in which the treatise was written, however, 
presented so remarkable a contrast to the contemporary 
writings of Newton, Boyle, Pascal, Guericke, and others, 
that it is not improbable it had the effect of prejudicing 
the minds of scientific men against the writer, and led 
them to regard his schemes as those of a wild projector, 
and hence to treat his propositions with neglect, if not 
with contumely. 

So soon as the Marquis had become possessed of the 
requisite funds, he proceeded to erect an engine at Yaux- 
hall to illustrate the uses of his principal invention. He 
was assisted, as before, by his old workman, Caspar 
Kaltoff. It is probable that the engine was erected by 
the beginning of 1663 ; for in the course of that year 
M. Sorbiere paid his visit to England, and found the 
Marquis's " hydraulic machine " at work. He describes 
it as capable of raising, by the strength of one man 
only, within a minute of time, four large buckets of 
water to a height of forty feet, through a pipe eight 
inches in diameter. He proceeds to compare it with 
another machine at Somerset House, worked by one or 
two horses, which he considers the more effective ma- 
chine of the two. 1 This account of the Marquis's in- 

1 His words are these : " One of 
the most curious things that I wished 
to see was an hydraulic machine which 
the Marquis of Worcester has invented, 
and of which he is making trial. I 
went with all speed to Fox-hall, on 
the other side of the Thames, a little 
balow Lambeth, which is the Palace of 
the Archbishop of Canterbury, in sight 
of London. This machine will raise to 
the height of forty feet, by the strength 
of one man only, and in a minute of 
time, four large buckets of water 
through a pipe of eight inches. But 
what will be the most powerful help 

to the wants of the public is the work 
which is performed by another in- 
geniously-constructed machine, which 
can be seen raised on a wooden tower 
on the top of Somerset House, which 
supplies that part of the town with 
water, but with some difficulty, and a 
smaller quantity than could be desired. 
It is somewhat like our Samaritane 
water- work on the Pont Neuf; and 
on the raising-pump they have added 
an impulsion which increases the 
force ; but for what we obtain by the 
power of the Seine, they employ one 
or two horses, which incessantly turn 


vention is confirmed by another brief description of it, 
which occurs in the narrative of the travels of Cosmo, 
Grand Duke of Tuscany, in England, some years later. 
Count Magalotti, the narrator, says, " It raises water 
more than forty geometrical feet, by the power of one 
man only ; and in a very short space of time will draw up 
four vessels of water through a tube or channel not more 
than a span in width, on which account it is considered to 
be of greater service to the public than the other machine 
at Somerset House." It will thus be observed that the 
Duke's secretary entertained a different opinion from that 
expressed by M. Sorbiere as to the comparative merits 
of the two engines spoken of. 

It is worthy of remark that the incidental accounts of 
these two foreigners contain almost the only contem- 
porary information we possess as to the character of the 
Marquis's invention. English writers of the time are 
almost entirely silent about it; and when Dr. Hooke, 
the learned Secretary of the Royal Society, refers to the 
contrivance, it is in a tone of ridicule rather than of 
praise. Writing to Mr. Boyle, in 1667, he characterises 
the definition or description of the water-commanding 
engine as " so purely romantic that it would serve one 
rarely to fill up half a dozen pages in the ' History of 
Fortunatus his Wishing Cap.' ... "I was," he adds, 
" since my return to London to see this engine, when 
I found Caltrop [Kaltoff ], his chief engineer, to laugh 
at it ; and as far as I was able to see it, it seemed one of 
the perpetual-motion fallacies; of which kind Caltrop 
himself, and two or three others that I know, are labour- 
ing at this time in vain to make, but after several ways ; 
and nothing but costly experience will make them desist." 1 

It is difficult to gather from the statements of Sor- 

the machine, as the river changes its 
course twice a day, and the spring or 
wheels which are used for the ebbing 
tide would not do for the flow." 

Sorbiere, ' Relation d'un Voyage en 

1 The Works of the Hon. Robert 
Boyle, v. 532. 

c 2 


biere and Cosmo de Medici what was the precise nature 
of the Marquis's hydraulic apparatus. There is no men- 
tion whatever of steam, either in their accounts or in 
that of Dr. Hooke ; but the latter does not seem to 
have been allowed to examine the details of the machine. 
From the mention by Sorbiere of the " four large 
buckets of water," and by Cosmo's secretary, of " four 
vessels of water," it might possibly have been only an 
improved hydraulic apparatus, worked by a man instead 
of a horse. In order, therefore, to obtain a clue to the 
real nature of the machine we find it necessary to resort 
to the Marquis's ' Scantlings' for his own account of its 
action, and we find it in article No. 68, which runs as 
follows : 

" 68. An admirable and most forcible way to drive up water by 
fire, not by drawing or sucking it upwards, for that must be as the 
Philosopher calleth it, Intra sphceram activitatis, which is but at ,suoh 
a distance. But this way hath no Bounder, if the Vessels be strong 
enough ; for I have taken a piece of a whole Cannon, whereof the 
end was burst, and filled it three-quarters full of water, stopping 
and scruing up the broken end ; as also the Touch-hole ; and making 
a constant fire under it, within twenty-four hours it burst and made 
a great crack : So that having a way to make my Vessels, so that 
they are strengthened by the force within them, and the one to fill 
after the other, I have seen the water run like a constant Fountaine- 
stream forty foot high ; one Vessel of water rarified by fire driveth 
up forty of cold water. And a man that tends the work is but to 
turn two Cocks, that one Vessel of water being consumed, another 
begins to force and refill with cold water, and so successively, the 
fire being tended and kept constant, which the self-same Person 
may likewise abundantly perform in the interim between the 
necessity of turning the said Cocks." 

From this account we gather that the Marquis had 
contrived a plan for raising water by the expansive force 
of steam, after the manner of De Caus, but with im- 
portant modifications and improvements. It had obvi- 
ously occurred to him, that by generating the steam in 
a separate vessel, and conveying it by means of a 'suit- 
able pipe to a second closed vessel, he could thereby 


make it expel the water which the latter contained by 
pressing upon its surface, as in De Caus's apparatus. 
The admission of the steam could easily be regulated by 
the turning of two cocks ; one to admit the steam from 
the boiler, and the other to allow the exit of the water. 
On the expulsion of the water, and the production of 
a vacuum by the condensation of the contained steam, 
the empty vessel would at once be refilled by the action 
of the atmospheric pressure on the surface of the water 
to be raised. It is probable that this engine was 
in the absence of a feed-pump, of which there is 
no mention provided with two boilers as well as with 
the two cisterns in which the "forcing and refilling" 
went on, so as to maintain the " constant fountain-stream" 
which the Marquis describes. But the precise arrange- 
ment of parts by which he accomplished this object must 
ever remain a matter of mere conjecture. 

We have other distinct indications of a steam-engine 
in the Marquis's 98th, 99th, and 100th Articles, which 
ought to be read in connection with the 68th Article : 
they run as follows : 

" 98. An Engine so contrived, that working the Primum mobile 
forward or backward, upward or downward, circularly or corner- 
wise, to and fro, streight, upright or downright, yet the pretended 
Operation continueth, and advanceth none of the motions above- 
mentioned, hindering, much less stopping the other ; but unani- 
mously, and with harmony agreeing they all augment and contribute 
strength unto the intended work and operation : And therefore I call 
this A Semi-omnipotent Engine, and do intend that a Model thereof be 
buried with me." 

"99. How to make one pound weight to raise an hundred as high 
as one pound falleth, and yet the hundred pound descending doth 
what nothing less than one hundred pound can effect." 

" 100. Upon so potent a help as these two last-mentioned Inven- 
tions a Waterwork is by many years experience and labour so 
advantageously by me contrived, that a Child's force bringeth up 
an hundred foot high an incredible quantity of water, even two 
foot Diameter, so naturally, that the work will not be heard even 
into the next Koom; and with so great ease and Geometrical 
Symmetry, that though it work day and night from one end of the 


year to the other, it will not require forty shillings reparation to 
the whole Engine, nor hinder ones day-work. And I may boldly 
call it The most stupendous Work in the whole world : not onely with 
little charge to drein all sorts of Mines, and furnish Cities with 
water, though never so high seated, as well to keep them sweet, 
running through several streets, and so performing the work of 
Scavengers, as well as furnishing the Inhabitants with sufficient 
water for their private occasions ; but likewise supplying Eivers 
with sufficient to maintaine and make them portable from Towne to 
Towne, and for the bettering of Lands all the way it runs ; with 
many more advantageous, and yet greater effects of Profit, Admira- 
tion, and Consequence. So that deservedly I deem this Invention 
to crown my Labours, to reward my Expences, and make my 
Thoughts acquiesce in way of further Inventions : This making up 
the whole Century, and preventing any further trouble to the 
Reader for the present, meaning to leave to Posterity a Book, 
wherein under each of these Heads the means to put in execution 
and visible trial all and every of these Inventions, with the shape 
and form of all things belonging to them, shall be Printed by Brass- 

The promised book was never written, and we are 
accordingly left in uncertainty as to the precise character 
of the Marquis's inventions. That he had a full convic- 
tion of the great powers of steam, as well as of its manage- 
ability and extensive practical uses, is sufficiently clear ; 
but that he ever erected any engines after the plans 
thus summarily described is matter of considerable 
doubt. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the number 
and variety of his suggested inventions, not a single 
model or machine constructed by the Marquis or his 
skilled workmen has been preserved. Mr. Dircks, who 
has collected and published all that is likely to be brought 
to light relative to the life and works of the Marquis, 
and has laboured at his task with a rare love and enthu- 
siasm for his subject, naturally expresses surprise that 
" none of the many cabinets of the curious seem to have 
possessed any model or work of his production ; not even 
the indefatigable Tradescant, although his museum was 
at Lambeth." ] But it is probable, as we have already 

1 Dircks's ' Life and Times,' &c., 356. 




observed, that the Marquis's ' Scantlings/ notwithstand- 
ing his statement that he had " tried and perfected" the in- 
ventions of which he speaks, were rather the foreshadow- 
ings of things to come than the descriptions of things 
that had actually been executed. Thus, no one pretends 
that the Marquis ever constructed a steamboat, and yet 
his description of a vessel " to work itself against wind 
and tide, yea, both, without the help of man or beast," 
can apply to nothing else. 1 " This engine," said he, " is 
applicable to any vessel or boat whatsoever, without 
being therefore made on purpose, and worketh these 
effects : it roweth, it draweth, it driveth, (if need be) to 
pass London Bridge against the stream at low-water, 
and a boat laying at anchor, the engine may be used for 
loading or unloading." But it would not be possible for 
any one to make an engine after the description given 
in the ' Scantlings ;' and to a generation unacquainted 
with the powers of steam, his suggestions would be 
altogether without meaning. 

The strongest evidence which could be adduced of the 
ambiguity of the Marquis's 'Articles' is to be found in 
the fact that the various ingenious writers who have 
given plans of his supposed engine have represented it 
in widely different forms. Farey assumes that it worked 
by the expansive force of steam ; Bourne, that it worked 
by condensation and atmospheric pressure ; Dircks infers 
that it included such ingenious expedients as valves and 
even a four-way cock, worked by a lever-handle ; Stuart, 
that it contained a cylinder and piston, and was, in fact, 
a complete high-pressure lever-engine. Again, the 
drawings of the various writers on engineering who 
have attempted to reproduce the engine of Stuart, 

1 Mr. Woodcroft is, however, of 
opinion that the Marquis's contrivance 
was but a boat with paddle-wheels, 
with an axis across it, which axis 
was turned by the action of the stream 
on the paddles, and thus wound up a 

rope and dragged the boat onward to 
the other end of the rope fixed by an 
anchor ; certainly a more clumsy and 
less notable contrivance than that of 
a htt-amboat. 


Galloway, Millington, and Dircks differ in essential 
respects. 4 

When Watt was on one occasion asked for his opinion 
as to the precise nature of the Marquis's contrivance, 
his answer was, that the descriptions given were too 
obscure to enable any definite opinion to be formed on 
the subject ; but he thought that the expansive power 
of steam was the principle on which the engine worked. 
He added, that no one could possibly erect an engine 
after the Marquis's 6 Scantlings,' and that any inventor 
desirous of constructing a steam-engine would have to 
begin again at the beginning. But though the Marquis 
did not leave the steam-engine in such a state as to be 
taken up and adopted as a practicable working power, 
he at least advanced it several important steps. In this 
world, it is not given to man to finish ; to persevere, 
to improve, and to advance, are all that can be hoped for ; 
and these are enough for the real philosopher. 

Little remains to be told of the unfortunate Marquis's 
history. His water-commanding engine proved of no 
service to him. It only increased his embarrassments 
by involving him in further debts. The Restoration, 
though it gave him back his estates, did not mend his 
fortunes, and he continued to importune his friends for 
loans. He sought access to the King by petition ; but 
it became more and more difficult to approach him. On 
one occasion he tried to accomplish his purpose through 
the influence of his Majesty's mistress, Lady Castlemaine. 
Provided she could persuade the king to grant his 
request, he offered to present to her " a thousand pieces 
to buy her a little jewel, which she deserves to wear 
every day of the week. And if it please God I live but 
two years," he added, " I will, out of the profits of my 
water-commanding engine, appropriate four hundred 

pounds yearly, for ever, to her Grace's disposal 

all which, as I am a gentleman and a Christian, shall be 
faithfully and most thankfully performed ; though the 
benefit I pretend to by my petition will not amount to 


what my gratitude obliges, yet the satisfaction which 
it will be to my mind, and my credit therein at stake, 
I value at ten times as much. And this will enable me 
to place my Water-commanding Engine, when I am 
certained of an hundred pounds a day profit, without 
further troubling the king or anybody." 1 

All his piteous importunity proved of no avail. His 
friends turned aside from his petitionings, and the 
king would give him no help. He came to be regarded 
as a crack-brained enthusiast, and a wild projector of 
impracticable things. He could not find any one to 
believe in his water-commanding engine, though he 
himself regarded it as of greater worth than either his 
titles or his estates. It had been his own creation the 
child of his brain the product of studies and experi- 
ments extending over nearly forty years. But what 
signified all this if no one would make use of the 
invention ? 

His difficulties and embarrassments grew from day to 
day ; and his projects met with increased contumely 
and even contempt. None valued them, because none 
understood them. It was even proposed to appro- 
priate to other purposes the premises at Yauxhall, on 
which he so much plumed himself, but which he had 
been unable to purchase. To prevent this, he again 
petitioned the king in 1666, representing that he had 
expended 9000. in building the house he occupied there 
as " an operatory for engineers and artists to make 
public works in," and " above 50,000^. trying conclu- 
sions of arts in that operatory which may be useful to 
his Majesty and his kingdom;" and he concluded by 
praying that Yauxhall might be granted to him at a 
fee-farm rent. The Marchioness, his wife, at the same 
time petitioned the House of Lords, representing the 
state of poverty to which her husband had been reduced, 
and that, in consequence of an execution having been 

1 Letter to sonic person unknown, quoted by Mr. Dircks from the Badminton 
MSS. Dircks's 'Life, Times,' &c., 276. 


put in at Worcester House, through a debt of 6000/. 
which the Marquis had incurred in 1642 to pay the 
garrison of Monmouth, then in a state of mutiny, he 
was actually threatened to be turned out of house and 
home. It is riot known what came of this petition ; 
but shortly after its presentation the poor Marquis was 
beyond all worldly help. Broken in health, harassed, 
embarrassed, and disappointed, he died in April, 1667, 
in the sixty-sixth year of his age, and his remains were 
conveyed to Raglan for interment in the family vault. 

It will be remembered that the Marquis concluded the 
98th article of his ' Century ' with the words, " I call 
this a semi-omnipotent engine, and do intend that a 
model thereof be buried with me." A diligent search 
for the model has recently been made in the vault under 
Raglan church, under the direction of Mr. Berinet 
Woodcroft, whose enthusiasm as a collector of primitive 
engines and machines is so well known ; but the search 
proved unsuccessful, and no traces of the Marquis's 
model could be found. 

KDINS OF RAGLAN CASTLE. [By Percival Skelton.J 




AFTER the death of the Marquis of Worcester, the 
Marchioness, his widow, made various efforts to turn his 
inventions to account. Sceptical though the world was 
as to their utility, she fully believed in them ; and now 
that he was gone, it would have been dishonouring to 
his memory to entertain a doubt as to his engine being 
able to do all that he had promised. The Marchioness 
had not only to maintain the fame of her dear husband, 
but to endeavour, if possible, to pay the debts he had 
contracted in prosecuting his inventions. She accor- 
dingly sought to interest persons of authority and 
influence in the water-commanding engine, and seized 
every opportunity of bringing it into notice. 

To such an extent did the Marchioness carry her zeal, 
that her friends began to fear lest her mind was be- 
coming disordered ; and her father-confessor was re- 
quested to expostulate with her as to the impropriety 
of her conduct. He accordingly implored her to desist 
from her vain endeavours to get " great sums of money 
from the King to pay her deceased lord's debts, en- 
riching herself by the great machine, and the like." 
He added that he feared " the devil, to make his sugges- 
tions the more prevalent, doth make use of some motives 
that seem plausible, as of paying your lord's debts, of 
founding monasteries, and the like ;'' pointing out that 
the end did not justify the means, and that such under- 
takings were improper for her ladyship, and by no 
means likely to be attended with success. It is not im- 


probable that these representations had their effect ; the 
more especially as the Marchioness was no more suc- 
cessful in inducing the public to adopt the invention 
than the Marquis himself had been. Accordingly, the 
water-commanding engine very shortly dropped out of 
sight, and in the course of a few years was almost 
entirely forgotten. 

The steam-engine project, however, did not die; it 
only slept. It had been the fruit thus far of noble 
effort, of persevering self-denial, and unquestionable skill. 
What was good in it would yet live, and reappear per- 
haps in other forms, to vindicate the sagacity and fore- 
sight of its inventor. Even during the Marquis's lifetime 
other minds besides his were diligently pursuing the 
same subject. Indeed, his enthusiasm was of a kind 
especially calculated to inflame other minds; and the 
success he had achieved with his engine, imperfect 
though it might be, was of so novel and original a cha- 
racter that it could not fail to excite a warm interest 
amongst men of like mechanical genius. 

One of the most distinguished of these was Sir Samuel 
Morland, appointed Master of Mechanics to Charles II. 
immediately after the Restoration. He had been for 
some time previously in the employment of the Pro- 
tectorate. He formed one of the embassy to Sweden, 
with Whitlocke, in 1653. Some years later he took an 
active part in the relief of the sufferings of the per- 
secuted Protestants of Piedmont whose history he 
afterwards wrote, having been appointed Commissioner 
Extraordinary for the distribution of the collected 
moneys. For some time he officiated as assistant to 
Thurloe, Crom well's secretary ; and it was while acting 
in this capacity that he became cognisant of a plot 
against the life of Charles II., then in exile. Morland 
divulged the plot to the king's friends, and thereby 
perhaps sa\ 7 ed his life. For this service, Charles, on 
his Restoration, presented him with a medal, as a badge 




of his signal loyalty, and also appointed him Master of 

From that time until the close of his life, Morland 
devoted himself entirely to mechanical studies. Among 
his various inventions may be mentioned the speaking- 
trumpet; 1 two arithmetical machines, of which he pub- 
lished an illustrated description ; the capstan to heave 
ships' anchors ; and various kinds of pumps and water 
engines. His pumps were of a very powerful arid 
effective kind. One of them, worked by eight men, 
forced water from the Thames at Blackmoor Park, near 
Winkfield, to the top of Windsor Castle. He also 
devoted himself to the improvement of the fire-engine, 
in which he employed a cylinder and piston, as well as 
a stuffing-box. Towards the later years of his life, he 
applied himself more particularly to the study of the 
powers and uses of steam. 2 In 1677, we find him taking 
a lease of Yauxhall, most probably the identical house 
occupied by the Marquis of Worcester, where he conducted 
a series of experiments as to the power requisite to raise 
water by cylinders of different dimensions. 3 It is not, 

1 We are informed that Morland's 
Tuba Stentorphornica, or speaking- 
trumpet, is still to be seen at Trinity 
College, Cambridge. Butler, in his 

* Hudibras,' alludes to the inven- 
tion : 

" I heard a formidable voice 
Loud as the stentorphornic noise." 

2 His first idea seems to have been 
to employ gunpowder for the pro- 
duction of motive power, for in the 

* Calendar of State Papers ' (Dom) we 
find the following entry : " Deer, 
llth, 1691. Warrant for a grant to 
Sir Samuel Morland of the sole use 
for 14 years of his invention for rais- 
ing water out of pits, &c., to a reason- 
able height, by the force of powder 
and air conjointly." (' Entry Book,' 
V., p. 85.) In vol. XLVL, p. 49, we 
find this entry under the same date : 
" Warrant for a grant to Sir S. Morland 

of the sole making of an engine in- 
vented by him for raising water in 
mines or pits, draining marshes, or 
supplying buildings with water." 

3 The * Harleian Miscellany ' (Brit. 
Mus.), No. 5771, contains the follow- 
ing brief tract in French, written by 
Morland in 1682. It is on vellum, 
and entitled * Les Principes de la 
Nouvelle Force de Feu :' " L'eau 
estant evaperee par la force de feu, 
ces vapeurs demandent incontinant 
une plus grand'espace [environ deux 
mille fois] que 1'eau n'occupoiet au- 
paravant, et plus tost que d'etre tou- 
jours emprisonn6s, feroient crever une 
piece de canon. Mais estant bien 
gouvernees selon les regies de la sta- 
tique, et par science reduites a la 
mesure an poids, et a la balance, alors 
elles portent paisiblement leurs far- 
deaux [comme des bons chevaux] et 
ainsy seroient elles du grand usage an 




however, known that he ever erected a steam-engine. 
If he did, no account of its performances has been 

Morland's inventions proved of no greater advan- 
tage to him than those of the Marquis of Worcester 
had done. His later years were spent in poverty 
and blindness, and he must have perished but for the 
charitable kindness of Archbishop Tenison and a few 
other friends. Evelyn gives the following interesting 
account of a visit to him in October, 1695, two months 
before his death : " The Archbishop and myself went 
to Hammersmith to visit Sir Samuel Morland, who was 
entirely blind; a very mortifying sight. He showed 
me his invention of writing, which was very ingenious ; 
also his wooden calendar, which instructed him all by 
feeling, and other pretty and useful inventions of mills, 
pumps, &c., and the pump he had erected that serves 
water to his garden, and to passengers, with an inscrip- 
tion, and brings from a filthy part of the Thames now 
near it, a most perfect and pure water. He had newly 
buried 200/. worth of music books, being, as he said, love 
songs and vanity. He plays himself psalms and religious 
hymns on the theorbo." The inscription to which Evelyn 
refers was on a stone tablet fixed on the wall of his 
house, still preserved, which runs thus : " SIR SAMUEL 
MORLAND'S WELL, the use of which he freely gives to 
all persons : hoping that none who shall come after him, 
will adventure to incur God's displeasure, by denying 
a cup of cold water (provided at another's cost and not 
their own) to either neighbour, stranger, passenger, or 
poor thirsty beggar. July 8, 1695." 

The next prominent experimenter on the powers of 

gendre humain, particulierement pour 
1'elevation des eaux, selon la table 
suivante que marque les nombres des 
livres qui pourrant estre leve's 1800 
fois par heure, a 6 pouces de levee, par 
de cylindres a moitie remplies d'eau, 

ausi bien que les divers diamctres et 
profondeurs dc-s dit cylindres." Tables 
are then given, showing the pmvcr 
requisite to raise given quantities of 
water to certain heights by cylinders 
of different dimensions. 





steam was Dr. Dionysius Papin. He was born at Blois 
about the middle of the seventeenth century, and educated 
to the profession of medicine. After taking his degree at 
Paris, he turned his attention more particularly to the 
study of physics, which soon occupied his whole atten- 
tion ; and under the celebrated Huyghens, then resident 
in that city, he made rapid progress. He would, doubt- 
less, have risen to great distinction in his own country, 
but for the circumstance of his being a Protestant. To 
escape the persecutions to which all members of that 
persuasion were then subject, Papin fled from France in 
1681, together with thousands of his countrymen, a few 
years before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. 
He took refuge in London, where he was welcomed by 
men of science, and more especially by the celebrated 
Boyle, under whose auspices he was introduced to the 


Eoyal Society, of which he was appointed Curator at an 
annual salary. 

It formed part of Papin's duty, in connection with 
his new office, to produce an experiment at each meeting 
of the Society. He was thus induced to prosecute the 
study of physical science ; and in order to stimulate the 
interest of the members, he sought to introduce new 
subjects from time to time to their notice. One of the 
greatest novelties of his "entertainments" was the pro- 
duction of his well-known Digester, which excited a 
considerable degree of interest; and on one occasion 
a philosophical supper, cooked by the Digester, was 
served up to the Fellows, of which Evelyn gives an 
amusing account in his Diary. 

He was led to the invention of the Digester by certain 
experiments which he made for Boyle. He discovered 
that if the vapour of boiling water could be prevented 
escaping, the temperature of the water would be raised 
much above the boiling point ; and it occurred to 
him to employ this increased heat in more effectually 
extracting nutritious matter from the bones of animals, 
until then thrown away as useless. The great strength 
required for his Digester, and the means he was obliged 
to adopt for the purpose of securely confining the cover, 
must have early shown him what a powerful agent he 
was experimenting on. To prevent the bursting of 
the vessel from the internal pressure, he was led to the 
invention of the safety-valve, which consisted of a small 
moveable plate, or cylinder, fitted into an opening in 
the cover of the boiler, and kept shut by a lever loaded 
with a weight, capable of sliding along it in the man- 
ner of a steel yard. The pressure of the weight upon 
the valve could thus be regulated at pleasure. When the 
pressure became so great as to endanger the safety of 
the boiler, the valve was forced up, and so permitted 
the steam to escape. Although Papin was thus the 
inventor of the safety-valve, it is a curious fact that he 


did not apply it to the steam-machine which he subse- 
quently invented, but adopted another expedient. 

The reputation of Papin having extended to Germany, 
he was, in 1687, invited to fill the office of Professor of 
Mathematics in the University of Marburg, and accepted 
the appointment. He continued, however, to maintain 
a friendly correspondence with his scientific friends in 
England, and communicated to the Royal Society the 
results of the experiments in physics which he con- 
tinued to pursue. In the same year in which he settled 
at Marburg, he submitted to the Society an important 
paper, which indicated the direction in which his 
thoughts were then running. It had occurred to him, 
as it had before done to Hautefeuille, that the explosion 
of gunpowder presented a ready means of producing 
a power to elevate a piston in a tube or cylinder, and 
that, when so raised, a vacuum could be formed under 
the piston by condensing the vapour, and so ensuring 
its return by the pressure of the atmosphere. He 
thought that he might thus be enabled to secure an 
efficient moving force. But it was found in practice, 
that the proposed power was too violent as well as un- 
certain, and it was shortly given up as impracticable. 

Papin next inquired whether his proposed elastic 
force and subsequent vacuum might not better be pro- 
duced by means of steam. He accordingly entered 
upon a series of experiments, which gradually led . him 
to the important conclusions published in his celebrated 
paper on "A New Method of Obtaining very Great 
Moving Powers at Small Cost," which appeared in the 
6 Acta Eruditorum' of Leipsic, in 1790. "I felt con- 
fident," he there observes, " that machines might be 
constructed wherein water, by means of no very intense 
heat, and at small cost, might produce that perfect 
vacuum which had failed to be obtained by means of 
gunpowder." He accordingly contrived a machine to 
illustrate this idea, but it was very imperfect and slow 



in its action, as may well be imagined from the circum- 
stance that to produce the condensation he did not 
apply cold, but merely took away the fire! Still he 
was successfully working out, step by step, the important 
problem of steam power. He clearly perceived that 
a piston might be raised in a cylinder by the elastic 
force of steam, and that on the production of a vacuum 
by its condensation, the piston might be driven home 
again by the pressure of the atmosphere. The question 
was, how was this idea to be realised in a practicable 
working machine ? After many experiments, Papin 
had the courage to make the attempt to pump water by 
atmospheric pressure on a large scale. He was em- 
ployed to erect machines after his principle, for the 
purpose of draining mines in Auvergne and Westphalia ; 
but from the difficulty he experienced in procuring and 
preserving a vacuum, and the tediousness of the process, 
his enterprise proved abortive. 

The truth is, that fertile though Papin was in con- 
ception, he laboured under the greatest possible dis- 
advantage in not being a mechanic. The eyes and 
hands of others are not to be relied on in the execution 
of new and untried machines. Unless eyes and hands 
be disciplined by experience in skilled work, and 
inspired by intelligence, they are comparatively useless. 
The chances of success are vastly greater when mind, 
eyes, and hands, are combined in one person. Hence 
the unquestionable fact that though the motive power 
of steam had long been the subject of ingenious specula- 
tion and elaborate experiment amongst scientific men, 
it failed to be adopted as a practicable working power 
until it was taken in hand by mechanics by such men 
as Newcomen, the blacksmith ; Potter, the engine-driver ; 
Brindley, the millwright ; and, above all, by James Watt, 
the mathematical instrument maker. 

The sagacious foresight of Papin as to the extensive 
applicability of steam-power as a motive agent, is 


strikingly shown by the following passage in the paper 
above referred to : " If any one," says he, " will consider 
the magnitude of the forces to be obtained in this way 
(i. e., by the atmospheric high-pressure engine he was 
suggesting), and the trifling expense at which a suffi- 
cient quantity of fuel can be procured, he will certainly 
admit that this very method is far preferable to the use 
of gunpowder above spoken of, especially as in this 
way a perfect vacuum is obtained, and so the incon- 
veniences above recounted are avoided. In what 
manner that power can be applied to draw water or 
ore from mines, to discharge iron bullets to a great 
distance, to propel ships against the wind, and to a 
multitude of other similar purposes, it would be too 
long here to detail ; but each individual, according to 
the particular occasion, must select the construction of 
machinery appropriate to his purpose." This last was, 
however, the real difficulty to be overcome. Steam, 
doubtless, contained a power to do all these things ; but 
as for the machine that would work quietly, docilely, 
and effectively, in pumping water, discharging bullets, 
or propelling ships, the mechanic had not yet appeared 
that was able to make one. 

Papin was, however, a man of great perseverance ; 
and, strong in his faith as to the power of steam to 
propel ships, he gradually worked his way to the con- 
trivance of a model steamboat. When in London, he 
had seen an experiment tried by the Prince Palatine 
Rupert on the Thames, in which a boat fitted with 
revolving paddles attached to the two ends of an axle 
which received its motion from a trundle working on 
a wheel turned round by horses, went with such rapidity 
as to leave the king's barge, manned by sixteen rowers, 
far behind in the race. The idea which occurred to 
Papin was, to apply a steam machine to drive the 
paddles, and thus ensure a ship's motion independent 
of wind or tide. For this purpose, it was necessary to 




convert the alternate motion of the piston-rod into 
a continuous rotary one ; and this he proposed to effect 
"by having the rods of the pistons fitted with teeth, 
which would force round small wheels, toothed in like 
manner, fastened to the axis of the paddles." 

The use of paddle-wheels in propelling boats had long 
been known. The Harleian MSS. contain an Italian 
book of sketches, attributed to the fifteenth century, in 
which there appears the annexed sketch of a paddle- 
boat. This boat was evidently intended to be worked by 

two men turning the crank 
by which the paddles were 
made to revolve. There 
were many other early 
schemes of paddle-boats, 
some of which were pro- 
posed to be worked by horse- 
power . The name of Blasco 
Garay has often been men- 
tioned as the first who ap- 
plied the power of steam to the driving of paddle-boats ; 
but for this there is not the slightest foundation. M. Ber- 
genroth informs us that he has carefully examined all 
the documents relating to the trials of Blasco Garay in 
the archives at Simancas, but has found no reference 
whatever to steam as the power employed in causing 
the paddles to revolve. 1 The experiments were made at 


1 M. Bergenroth says the documents 
at Simancas consist of 1. A holo- 
graph letter of Blasco Garay to the 
Emperor, dated Malaga, 10th Sept., 
1540, containing his report on the trial 
trip of one of his paddle-wheel ships ; 

2. The report of the Captain Antonio 
Destigarura on the same trial trip; 

3. The report of the Provcedores of 
Malaga concerning the same trip, dated 
27th July, 1540 ; 4. The report of 
Blasco Garay to the Emperor, dated 
6th July, 1543, concerning the trial 
trip of another of his paddle-wheel 

ships made at Barcelona in June, 
1543 ; 5. A letter of Blasco Garay to 
Carrs, dated 20th June, 1543. In 
none of these is there to be found any 
reference to steam-power ; but only to 
the power of men employed in driving 
the paddle-wheels. This is confirmed 
by the independent examination of the 
same documents by J. Macgregor, 
Esq., of the Temple, who gives the 
result in a Letter to Bennet Woodcraft, 
Esq., inserted as a note to the ' Abridg- 
ments of the Specifications relating to 
Steam Propulsion,' pp. 105-7. 


Malaga and Barcelona respectively, in the years 1540 
and 1543 : in one the vessel was propelled by a paddle- 
wheel on each side worked by twenty-five men, and in 
the other by a paddle-wheel worked by forty men. 

It appears probable that although others before Papin 
had speculated as to the possibility of constructing a boat 
to be driven by the power of steam, he was the first to 
test the theory by actual experiment ; the first to con- 
struct a model steamboat. His first experiments were 
doubtless failures. The engine contrived by himself 
was found inapplicable to the driving of ships, as it had 
been to the pumping of mines ; and it was not until he 
saw the model of Savery's engine exhibited to the Eoyal 
Society of London, in 1698, and witnessed the trial of the 
same inventors paddle-wheel boat on the Thames in the 
course of the same year that it occurred to him to com- 
bine the two contrivances in one, and apply Savery's 
engine to drive Savery's paddle-wheels. Returning to 
Marburg, he proceeded with his experiments, and in- 
formed Liebnitz that he had employed both suction and 
pressure by steam ; that he had made a model of a car- 
riage propelled by this force, which succeeded ; and he 
hoped that the same power would answer for boats. 
Papin prosecuted his idea with great zeal, trying many 
expedients, encountering many difficulties, and meeting 
with many disappointments. At length, after about 
fifteen years' labour, he succeeded in constructing a 
model engine, fitted in a boat "une petite machine 
d'unvaisseau a roues" which worked to his satisfaction. 
His next object was to get his model transported to 
London, to exhibit it on the Thames. " It is important," 
he writes to Liebnitz (7th July, 1707), "that my new 
construction of vessel should be put to the proof in a 
seaport like London, where there is depth enough to 
apply the new invention, which, by means of fire, will 
render one or two men capable of producing more eifect 
than some hundreds of rowers." Papin had consider- 


able difficulty in obtaining the requisite permission from 
the authorities to enable his model to pass from the 
Fulda to the Weser ; but at length he succeeded, and 
the little vessel reached Miinden, when, to Papin's great 
grief, it was, seized by the boatmen of the river, and 
barbarously destroyed. 

The year after this calamity befel Papin's machine he 
wrote an urgent letter to his old friends of the Eoyal 
Society at London, asking them to advance him sufficient 
money to construct another engine " and to fit it so that 
it might be applied for the rowing of ships." The 
Society, however, did not see their way to assisting 
Papin in the manner proposed, most likely because of 
the expense as well as uncertainty of the experiment. 
Two years later, worn out by work and anxiety, the 
illustrious exile died ; and it was left for other labourers 
to realise the great ideas he had formed as to locomotion 
by steam-power. 

The apparently resultless labours of these men will 
serve to show what a long, anxious, and toilsome process 
the invention of the steam-engine has been. The early 
inventors had not the gratification of seeing their toils 
rewarded by even the faintest glimmering of practical 
success. One after another, they took up the subject, 
spent days and nights of study over it, and, laying down 
their lives, there left it. To many the study brought 
nothing but anxiety, toil, distress, and sometimes ruin ; 
while some fairly broke their hearts over it. But it was 
never abandoned. Disregarding the fate of their pre- 
decessors, one labourer after another resumed the inves- 
tigation, advancing it by further stages, until at length 
the practicable working steam-engine was invented, pre- 
senting, perhaps, the most remarkable illustration of the 
power of human skill and perseverance to be found in 
the whole history of civilisation. 




THE attempts hitherto made to invent a working steam- 
engine, it will be observed, had not been attended with 
much success. The most that could be said of them was, 
that, by demonstrating the impracticable, they were 
gradually leading other experimenters in the direction 
of the practicable. Although the progress made seemed 
but slow, the amount of net result was by no means in- 
considerable. Men were becoming better acquainted 
with the elastic force of steam. The vacuum produced 
by its condensation in a closed vessel, and the con- 
sequent atmospheric pressure, had been illustrated by 
repeated experiments ; and many separate and minor 
inventions, which afterwards proved of great value, had 
been made, such as the four-way cock, the safety-valve, 
and the piston moving in a cylinder. The principle of 
a true steam-engine had not only been demonstrated, 
but most of the separate parts of such an engine had 
been contrived by various inventors. It seemed as if all 
that was now wanting was a genius of more than ordi- 
nary power to combine them in a complete and effective 

To Thomas Savery is usually accorded the merit of 
having constructed the first actual working steam-engine. 
Little is known of his early history ; and various sur- 
mises have been formed as to his origin and calling. 
Some writers have described him as the captain of a tin- 
mine ; others as a naval captain ; while a third says he 
was an immigrant Frenchman. 1 We are, however, 

Burn, 'History of Foreign Protestant Refugees,' 261. 




enabled to state, from information communicated by his 
descendants, that he was the scion of a well-known 
Devonshire family. John Savery, of Halberton, or 
Harberton, afterwards of Great Totness, was a gentleman 
of considerable property in the reign of Henry VIII. 
In the sixteenth century the Saverys became connected 
by marriage with the Servingtons of Tavistock, another 
old county family, one of whom served as sheriff in the 
reign of Edward III. In 1588, Christopher Savery, 
the head of the family, resided in Totness Castle, of 
which he was the owner ; and for a period of nearly 
forty years the town was represented in Parliament by 
members of the Savery family. Sir Charles served as 
Sheriff of Devon in 1619. Though the Saverys took 
the side of the Parliament, in resisting the despotic 
power assumed by Charles I., they nevertheless held a 
moderate course; for we find Colonel Savery, in 1643, 
attaching his name to the famous " round robin" pre- 
sented to Parliament. Richard Savery, the youngest 
son of the Colonel, was father of Thomas Savery, the 
inventor of the " fire-engine." Other members of the 
Savery family, besides Thomas, were distinguished for 
their prosecution of physical science. Thus we find 
from the family MSS., Servington Savery correspond- 
ing with Dr. Jurin, Secretary to the Royal Society, 
respecting an improvement which he had made in the 
barometer, and communicating the results of some mag- 
netic experiments of a novel kind, which he had recently 
performed. 4 

Thomas Savery was born at Shilston, near Modbury, 
in Devon, about the year 1650. Nothing is known of 

1 In a letter, dated Shilston, August 
9th, 1727, he writes: "The late Mr, 
Thomas Savery, inventor of the en- 
gines for rowing, and raising water by 
fire, was, I believe, well known to 
several of the Royal Society, perhaps 
to the President ; but as I am a per- 

fect stranger, do acquaint you that his 
father was youngest brother to my 
grandfather. The late Servington 
Savery, M.D., of Marlborough, \vas 
one of my family, viz., a brother t<> 
my deceased father." 




his early life, beyond that he was educated to the pro- 
fession of a military engineer, and in course of time duly 
reached the rank of Trench-master. The corps of en- 
gineers was not, however, regarded as an essential 
part of the military force until the year 1787, when the 
officers ranked with those of the Roval Artillery. The 


pursuit of his profession, as well as his natural disposi- 
tion, led Savery to the study of mechanics, and he he- 
came well accomplished in the physical knowledge of his 
time. He occupied much of his spare time in mechanical 
experiments, and in projecting and executing contri- 
vances of various sorts. One of his early works was a 




clock, still preserved in the family, 1 which until lately 
kept very good time ; and when last repaired by a 
watchmaker of Modbury was pronounced to be a piece 
of very good work, of a peculiar construction, displaying 
'much ingenuity. 

Another of Savery' s early contrivances was a machine 
for polishing plate-glass, for which he obtained a patent. 
He was occupied about the same time with an invention 
for rowing ships in calms by the mechanical apparatus 
subsequently described in his treatise, entitled ' Naviga- 
tion Improved.' He there relates how it troubled his 
thoughts and racked his brains to find out this invention, 
which he accomplished after many experiments, con- 
ducted " with great charge." He naturally set much 
value on the product of so much study and labour ; and 
he was proportionately vexed on finding that others 
regarded* it with indifference. He professed to have 
had " promises of a great reward from the Court, if the 
thing would answer the end for which he proposed it ;" 
but instead of a reward, Savery received only. contumely 
and scorn. He attributed his want of success to the ill- 
humour of the then Surveyor of the Navy, who reported 
against his engine, because, said he, " it's the nature of 
some men to decry all inventions that are not the pro- 
duct of their own brains." He only asked for a fair 
trial of his paddle-boat, believing in its efficiency and 
utility; declaring , that it was not his " fondness for his 
own bratt that made him think so," but the favourable 
opinions of several very judicious persons in town, that 
encouraged him to urge his invention for public 

The invention in question consisted of a boat mounted 
with two paddle-wheels, one on each side, worked by a 
capstan placed in the centre of the vessel. The annexed 

1 It is now in the possession of Capt. 
Lowe, of the 26th Regiment, whose 

grand-aunt was a Miss Savery of Sliil- 





cut will show the nature of the arrangement, which 
probably did not differ much from the scheme of Blasco 
Garay, above referred to. 

Savery says 
he was led 
to make the \] !, 
through the 
difficulty which 
had been expe- 
rienced in get- 
ting ships in HH 
motion so as 
to place them 
alongside of the 
enemy in sea- 
fights, especially during calm weather. He" thought 
that if our fighting-ships could be made to move inde- 
pendent of the winds, we should thereby possess an 
advantage of essential consequence to the public service. 
" The gentlemen," said he, " that were on the Brest expe- 
dition with my Lord Caermarthen must know how useful 
this engine would have been ; for had they had them there 
on board each ship, they might have moved themselves 
where they had pleased." He also urged the usefulness 
of the engine for packet-boats, bomb- vessels, and sloops, 
and especially for use in sea-fights, in bringing off dis- 
abled ships. When he had completed his invention, he 
took steps to bring it under the notice of Mr. Secretary 
Trenchard. The plan was shown to the King, who 
thought highly of it, and referred Savery to the Admi- 
ralty. When he went there he was told that he should 
have gone to the Navy Board. At the Navy Board he 
was told that certain objections to the adoption of his 
scheme had already been sent to the Admiralty. 

Savery having ascertained that the Surveyor was 
himself the author of the objections, proceeded to discuss 




the matter with him. But the Surveyor was not a man 
to be argued out of his views by an inventor ; and he 
shut up Savery with the remark : " What have inter- 
loping people, that have no concern with us, to do to 
pretend to contrive or invent things for us ? " Savery 
was highly indignant at the official snub, and published 
the conversation in his Treatise. " Though one has 
found out," said he, " an improvement as great to shipping 
as turning to windward or the Compass, unless you can 
sit round the Green Table in Crutched Friars, your in- 
vention is damned, of course ;" and the testy inventor 
concluded : " All I have now to add is, that whoever is 
angry with the Truth for appearing in mean language 
may as well be angry with an honest man for his plain 
habit ; for, indeed, it is as common for Lyes and Non- 
sense to be disguised by a jingle of words as for a Block- 
head to be hid by abundance of Peruke." 1 

Notwithstanding his rebuff by the Navy Surveyor, 
Savery proceeded to fit up a small yacht with his engine, 
and tried an experiment with it on the Thames, in sight 
of many thousands of spectators. The experiment was, 
in his opinion, entirely successful. The yacht, manned 
by eight sailors working the capstan, passed a ketch 
with all its sails spread, as well as other vessels. " All 
people," said Savery, " seemed to like the demonstration 
of the use of my engine, the public newspapers speaking 
very largely of it, yet all to no purpose." Savery had 
already expended 200. in his experiments on the paddle- 
wheel boat, and was not disposed to go any further, 
now that Government had decided not to take up the 
invention. Indeed, its practical utility was doubtful. 
The power of the wind was, after all, better than hand- 
labour for working large ships ; and it continued to 

1 * Navigation Improved ; or the Art 
of Rowing Ships of all rates in calms, 
with a more easy, swift and steady mo- 
tion than oars can. Also, a descrip- 
tion of the engine that performs it ; 

and the Author's answer to all Mr. 
Drummer's objections that have been 

made against it. By Tho. 
Gent. London, 1098.' 



maintain its superiority until the steam-engine was 
brought to perfection. 

It is curious that it should not have occurred to Savery, 
who invented both a paddle-wheel boat and a steam- 
engine, to combine the two in one machine ; but he was 
probably sick of the former invention, which had given 
him so much vexation and annoyance, and gave it up 
in disgust, leaving it to Papin, who saw both his inven- 
tions at work, to hit upon the grand idea of combining 
the two in a steam-vessel, the only machine capable of 
effectually and satisfactorily rowing ships in a calm, or 
against wind and tide. 

It is probable that Savery was led to enter upon his 
next and most important invention by the circumstance 
of his having been brought up in the neighbourhood of 
the mining districts, and being well aware of the great 
difficulty experienced by the miners in keeping their 
pits clear of water, to enable them to proceed with 
their underground operations. The early tin-mining 
of Cornwall was for the most part what was called 
" stream-work," being confined mainly to washing and 
collecting the diluvial deposits of the ore. Mines 
usually grew out of these stream-works ; the ground 
was laid open at the back of the lodes, and the ore was 
dug out as from a quarry. Some of these old openings, 
called " coffins," are still to be met with in different 
parts of Cornwall. The miners did not venture much 
below the surface, for fear of the water, by which they 
were constantly liable to be drowned out. But as the 
upper strata became exhausted, they were tempted to go 
deeper in search of the richer ores. Shafts were sunk 
to the lodes, and they were followed underground. 
Then it was that the difficulty of water had to be en- 
countered and overcome ; for unless it could be got rid 
of, the deeper ores of Cornwall were as so much buried 
treasure. When the mines were of no great depth, it 
was possible to bale out the water by hand-buckets. 




But this expedient was soon exhausted ; and the power 
of horses was then employed to draw the buckets. 
Where the lodes ran along a hill-side, it was possible, by 
driving an adit from a lower point, to let off the water 
by natural drainage. But this was not often found 
practicable, and in most cases it had to be raised directly 
from the shafts by artificial methods. As the quantity 
increased, a whim or gin moving on a perpendicular 
axis was employed to draw the water. 1 An improve- 
ment on this was the rack and chain pump, consisting 
of an endless iron chain mounted with knobs of cloth 
stiffened with leather, inclosed in a wooden pump of 
from six to eight inches bore, the lower part of which 
rested in the well of the mine. The chain was turned 
round by a wheel two or three feet in diameter, usually 
worked by men, and the knobs with which it was 
mounted brought up a stream of water according to the 
dimensions of the pump. Another method, considered 
the most effectual of all, was known as " the water- 
wheel and bobs," consisting of a powerful pump, or 
series of pumps, worked by a water-wheel. But 
although there is no want of water underground in 
Cornwall, and no want of rain above ground, there are 
few or no great water-courses capable of driving 
machinery; besides, as the mines are for the most 
part situated on high ground, it will be obvious 
that water-power was available to only a very limited 
extent for this purpose. 

It is also worthy of notice that the early mining of 
Cornwall was carried on by men of small capital, prin- 
cipally by working men, who were unable to expend 
any large amount of money in forming artificial reser- 
voirs, or in erecting the powerful pumping machinery 

1 Mr. Davies Gilbert says even this 
method was comparatively modern, as 
he remembered a carpenter who used 
to boast that he had assisted in mak- 

ing the first whim ever seen westward 
of Hayle. Davies, * Parochial History 
of Cornwall,' London, 1838, ii. 83. 


necessary for keeping the deeper mines clear of 
water. The Cornish miners, like the Whitstable oyster- 
dredgers, worked upon the principle of co-operation. 
This doctrine, now taught as a modern one, was prac- 
tised by them almost time out of mind. The owner of 
the land gave the use of his land, the adventurers gave 
their money, and the miners their labour ; all sharing in 
the proceeds according to ancient custom. For the use 
of his land, and for the ore taken from the mine, 
the lord usually took a sixth part ; but in consideration 
of draining the mine, and in order to encourage the 
adventure, he was often content with an eighth, or it 
might be only a tenth part of the produce. The miners, 
on their part, agreed to divide in the proportions in 
which they took part in the work. Their shares of the 
ore raised were measured by barrows, and parcelled 
into heaps ; " and it is surprising," says Borlase, " to 
see how ready and exact the reckoners are in dividing, 
though oftentimes they can neither write nor read. 
The parcels being laid forth, lots are cast, and then 
every parcel has a distinct mark laid on it with one, 
two, or three stones, and sometimes a bit of stick or turf 
stuck up in the middle or side of the pile; and when 
these marks are laid on, the parcels may continue there 
half a year or more unmolested." * 

These were, however, the early and primitive days of 
mining, when the operations were carried on com- 
paratively near the surface, and the capital invested in 
pumping-machinery was comparatively small in amount. 
As the miners went deeper and deeper into the ground, 
and the richer lodes were struck and followed, the cha- 
racter of mining became considerably changed. Larger 
capitals were required to sink the shafts and keep them 
clear of water until the ore was reached ; and a new 
class of men, outside the mining districts, was induced 

Borlase, 'Natural History of Cornwall,' 175-6. 




to venture their money in the mines as a speculation. 
Yet the system above described, though greatly modified 
by altered circumstances, continues to this day ; and the 
mining of Cornwall continues to be carried on mainly 
upon the co-operative or joint-stock system. 

When the surface lodes became exhausted, the necessity 
of employing some more efficient method of pumping the 
water became more and more urgent. In one pit after 
another the miners were being drowned out, and the 
operations of an important branch of national industry 
were in danger of being brought to a complete standstill. 
It was under these circumstances that Captain Savery 
turned his attention to the contrivance of a more 
powerful engine for the raising of water ; and after 
various experiments, he became persuaded that the 
most effective agency for the purpose was the power of 
steam. It is very probable that he was aware of the 
attempts that had been previously made in the same 
direction, and he may have gathered many useful and 
suggestive hints from the Marquis of Worcester's 
4 Century ; ' but as that book contained no plans nor 
precise definitions of the methods by which the Marquis 
had accomplished his objects, it could have helped him 
but little towards the contrivance of a practicable 
working engine. 1 

How Savery was led to the study of the power of 
steam has been differently stated. Desaguliers says his 
own account was this, that having drunk a flask of 
Florence at a tavern, and thrown the empty flask on the 

1 The absurd story is told by Dr. 
Desaguliers (* Experimental Philo- 
sophy,' ii. 465) that Savery, having 
read the Marquis's book, "was the 
first to put in practice the raising of 
water by fire, which he proposed for 
the draining of mines;" and having 
copied the Marquis's engine, "the 
better to conceal the matter, bought 
up all the Marquis of Worcester's 

books that he could purchase in Pater- 
noster-row and elsewhere, and burned 
'em in the presence of the gentleman, 
his friend, who told me this!" It 
need scarcely be said that it was very 
unlikely that Savery should have at- 
tempted thus to conceal an invention 
recorded in a printed book which had 
been in circulation for more than forty 


fire, he called for a basin of water to wash his hands, 
and perceiving that the little wine left in the flask had 
changed to steam, he took the vessel by the neck and 
plunged its mouth into the water in the basin, when, 
the steam being condensed, the water was immediately 
driven up into the flask by the pressure of the atmo- 
sphere. Desaguliers disbelieved this account, but admits 
that Savery made many experiments upon the powers 
of steam, and eventually succeeded in making several 
engines " which raised water very well." Switzer, who 
was on intimate terms with Savery, gives another 
account. He says the first hint from which he took the 
engine was from a tobacco-pipe, which he immersed in 
water to wash or cool it ; when he discovered by the 
rarefaction of the air in the tube by the heat or steam, 
and the gravitation or pressure of the exterior air on the 
condensation of the latter, that the water was made to 
spring through the tube of the pipe in a most surprising 
manner; 1 and that this phenomenon induced him to 
search for the rationale, and to prosecute a series of expe- 
riments which issued in the invention of his fire-engine. 

However Savery may have obtained his first idea of 
the expansion and condensation of steam, and of atmos- 
pheric pressure, it is certain that the subject occupied 
his attention for many years. He had the usual diffi- 
culties to encounter in dealing with a wholly new and 
untried power, in contriving the novel mechanism 
through w r hich it was to work, and of getting his con- 
trivances executed by the hands of mechanics necessarily 
unaccustomed to such kind of work. " Though I was 
obliged," he says, " to encounter the oddest and almost 
insuperable difficulties, I spared neither time, pains, nor 
money, till I had absolutely conquered them." 

Having sufficiently matured his design, he had a 
model of his new " Fire Engine," as he termed it, made 

Switzer, ' System of Hydrostaticks and Hydraulic ks,' London, 1729. 





for exhibition before the King at Hampton Court in 
1698. William III., who was himself of a mechanical 
turn, was highly pleased with the ingenuity displayed 
in Savery's engine, as well as with its efficient action, 
and he permitted the inventor to dedicate to him ' The 
Miner's Friend,' containing the first published descrip- 
tion of his invention. The King also promoted Savery's 
application for a Patent, which was secured in July, 
1698, 1 and an Act confirming it was passed in the 
following year. 

Savery's next step was to bring his invention under 
the notice of the Royal Society, whose opinion on all 
matters of science was listened to with profound respect. 
He accordingly exhibited his model at a meeting held 
on the 14th of June, 1699, and it is recorded in the 
minutes of that date, that " Mr. Savery entertained the 
Society with showing his engine to raise water by 
the force of fire. He was thanked for showing the 
experiment, which succeeded according to expectation, 
and was approved of." The inventor presented the 
Society with a drawing of his engine, accompanied by a 
description, which was printed in the 'Transactions.' 2 

Savery next endeavoured to bring his invention into 
practical use, but this was a matter of much greater 
difficulty. So many schemes with a like object had 
been brought out and failed, that the mining interest 
came to regard new projects with increasing suspicion. 
To persuade them that he was no mere projector, but 
the inventor of a practicable working engine, Savery 
wrote and published his ' Miner's Friend.' " I am not 
very fond," he there said, " of lying under the scandal of 

1 The patent is dated the 25th July, 
1698, and is entitled, "A grant to 
Thomas Savery, Gentl., of the sole 
exercise of a new invencon, by him 
invented, for raiseing of water, and 
occasioning mocon to all sort of mill 
works, by the impellant force of fire, 
which will be of great use for draining 

mines, serving towns with water, and 
for the working of all sorts of mills 
when they have not the benefit of 
water nor constant winds ; to hold for 
14 years ; with usual clauses." 

2 ' Philosophical Transactions,' No. 
252. Weld's ' Royal Society,' i. 357. 


a bare projector, and therefore present you here with a 
draught of my machine, and lay before you the uses 
of it, and leave it to your consideration whether it be 
worth your while to make use of it or no." 

Inventors before Savery's time were wont to make a 
great mystery of their inventions ; but he proclaimed 
that there was no mystery whatever about his machine, 
and he believed that the more clearly it was understood, 
the better it would be appreciated. He acknowledged 
that there had been many pretenders to new inventions 
of the same sort, who had excited hopes which had 
never been fulfilled ; but this invention which he had 
made was a thing the uses of which were capable of 
actual demonstration. He urged that the old methods 
of raising water could not be carried further ; and that 
an entirely new power was needed to enable the miner to 
prosecute his underground labours. " I fear," said he, 
" that whoever by the old causes of motion pretends to im- 
provements within the last century does betray his know- 
ledge and judgment. For more than a hundred years 
since, men and horses would raise by engines then made 
as much water as they have ever done since, or I believe 
ever will, or, according to the law of nature, ever can 
do. And, though my thoughts have been long employed 
about water-works, I should never have pretended to 
any invention of that kind, had I not happily found out 
this new, but yet a much stronger and cheaper force or 
cause of motion than any before made use of." He 
proceeded to show how easy it was to work his engine, 
boys of thirteen, or fourteen years being able to 
attend and work it to perfection after a few days' 
teaching, and how he had at length, after great 
difficulty, instructed handicraft artificers to construct 
the engine according to his design, so that, after much 
experience, said he, "they are become such masters 
of the thing that they oblige themselves to deliver 
what engines they make exactly tight and fit for service, 

E 2 




and as such I dare warrant them to anybody that has 

occasion for them." ! 

Savery's engine, as described by him- 
self, consisted of a series of boilers, con- 
densing vessels, and tubes, the action of 
which will be readily understood with 
the help of the annexed drawing. 2 

1 ' The Miner's Friend, or an Engine to Raise Water 
by Fire, described, and of the manner of fixing it in 
Mines, with an account of the several uses it is applicable 
unto ; and an answer to the objections 
made against it. By Tho. Savery, Gent.' 
London, 1702. 

2 Two boilers, a large, A, A, and a 
smaller, B, were fixed in a furnace, and 
connected together at the top by a 
pipe, c. The larger boiler was filled 
two-thirds full, and the smaller quite 
full of water. When that in the larger 
one was raised to the boiling-point, the 
handle of the regulator, D, was thrust 
back as far as it would go, by which 
the steam forced itself through the pipe 
connected with the vessel E, expelling 
the air it contained through the clack 
at F. The handle of the regulator being 
then drawn towards you, the communi- 
cation between the boiler and the vessel, 
E, was closed, and that between the 
boiler and the second vessel, G, was 
opened, which latter was also filled with 
steam, the air being in like manner dis- 
charged through the clack, H. Cold water was then poured from 
the water-cock, T, on to the vessel E, by which the steam was 
suddenly condensed, and a vacuum being thereby caused, the water 
to be raised was drawn up through the sucking-pipe, J, its return 
being prevented by a clack or valve at K. The handle of the regu- 
lator D being again thrust back, the steam was again admitted, 
and pressing upon the surface of the water in E, forced it out at 
the bottom of the vessel and up through the pipe L, from which 
it was driven into the open air. The handle of the regulator was 
then reversed, on which the steam was again admitted to G, and 
the water in like manner expelled from it, while E, being again 
dashed with cold water, was refilling from below. Then the cold 
water was turned upon G, and thus alternate filling and forcing- 
went on, and a continuous stream of cold water kept flowing 
from the upper opening. The large boiler was replenished with 
water by shutting off the connection of the small boiler with the 
cold water pipe, M, which supplied it from above, on which the 
steam contained in the latter forced the water through the con- 
necting pipe, c, into the large boiler, and kept it running in a continuous 
stream until the surface of the water in the smaller boiler was depressed 


Its principal features were two large cylindrical 
vessels, which were alternately filled with steam from 
an adjoining boiler and with cold water from the 
well or mine out of which the water had to be raised. 
When either of the hollow vessels was filled with steam, 
and then suddenly cooled by a dash of cold water, a 
vacuum, was thereby created, and, the vessel being 
closed at the top and open at the bottom, the water was 
at once forced up into it from the well by the pressure 
of the atmosphere. The steam, being then let into the 
vessel from the top, pressed upon the surface of the 
water, and forced it out at the bottom by another pipe 
(its return into the well being prevented by a clack), 
and so up the perpendicular pipe which opened into 
the outer air. The second vessel being treated in the 
same manner, the same result followed ; and thus, by 
alternate filling and forcing, a continuous stream of 
water was poured out from the upper opening. The 
whole of the labour required to work the engine was 
capable of being performed by a single man, or even 
by a boy,. after very little teaching. 

Although Savery's plans and descriptions of the 
arrangement and working of his engines are clear and 
explicit, he does not give any information as to their 
proportions, beyond stating that an engine employed in 
raising a column of water 34 inches in diameter 60 feet 
high, requires a fireplace 20 inches deep. Speaking of 
their performances, he says, "I have known, in Corn- 
wall, a work with three lifts of about 18 feet each, lift 
and carry a 3i-inch bore, that cost 426-. a day (reckoning 
24 a day) for labour, besides the wear and tear of en- 
gines, each pump having four men working eight hours, 
at I4d. a man, and the men obliged to rest at least a 
third part of that time." He pointed out that at least 
one-third part, of the then cost of raising water might 

below the opening of the connecting pipe, which was indicated by the noise 
of the clack, when it was refilled from the cold water pipe, M, as before. 


be saved by the adoption of his invention, which on 
many mines would amount to "a brave estate " in the 
course of a year. In estimating the power of his 
engine, Savery was accustomed to compare it with the 
quantity of work that horses could perform, and hence 
he introduced the term " horse power," which is still in 

Although, in the treatise referred to, Savery describes 
an engine with two furnaces, the drawing which he 
presented to the Royal Society showed only one ; and 
it appears that in another of his designs he showed only 
one cylindrical vessel instead of two. In order to exhibit 
the working of his engine on a larger scale than in the 
model, he proceeded to erect one in a potter's house at 
Lambeth, where, Switzer says, though it was a small 
engine, the water struck up the tiles and forced its way 
through the roof in a manner that surprised all the spec- 
tators. Switzer mentions other engines erected after 
Slavery's designs for the raising of water at Camden 
House and Sion House, which proved quite successful. 
The former, he says, was the plainest and best pro- 
portioned engine he had seen : it had only a single 
condensing vessel ; and " though but a small one in 
comparison with many others of the kind that are made 
for coal-works, it is sufficient for any reasonable family, 
and other uses required for it in watering middling 
gardens." ] Four receivers full of water, or equal to 
52 gallons, were raised every minute, or 3110 gallons 
in the hour ; whilst, in the case of the larger engines 
with double receivers, 6240 gallons an hour might easily 
be raised. The cost of the smaller engine was about 
fifty pounds, and the consumption of coal about a bushel 
in the twenty-four hours, supposing it was kept con- 
stantly at work during that time. 

The uses to which Savery proposed to apply his 

1 Switzer, Introduction to a General System of Hydrostaticks and Hydrsiu- 
licks,' 237. 


engine were various. One was to pump water into a 
reservoir, from which, by falling on a water-wheel, it 
might produce a continuous rotary motion. Another was 
to raise water into cisterns for the supply of gentlemen's 
houses, and for use in fountains and as an extinguisher 
in case of fire. A third was to raise water for the 
supply of towns, and a fourth to drain fens and marsh 
lands. But the most important, in the inventor's esti- 
mation, was its employment in clearing drowned mines 
and coal-pits of water. He showed how water might 
be raised from deep mines by using several engines, 
placed at different depths, one over the other. Thus by 
three lifts, each of 80 feet, water might be raised from 
a mine about 240 feet then considered a very great 
depth From Savery's own account, it is evident that 
several of his engines were erected in Cornwall ; and it 
is said that the first was tried at Huel Yor, or " The 
Great Work in Breage," a few miles from Helstone, 
then considered the richest tin mine in the countv. 


The engine was found to be an improvement on the 
methods formerly employed for draining the mine, and 
sent the miners to considerably greater depths. But 
the great pressure of steam required to force up a high 


column of water was such as to strain to the utmost the 
imperfect boilers and receivers of those early days ; and 
the frequent explosions which attended its use eventually 
led to its discontinuance in favour of the superior engine 
of Newcomen, which was shortly after invented. 

Savery also endeavoured to introduce his engine in 
the coal-mining districts, but without success, and for the 
same reason. The demand for coal in connection with 
the iron manufacture having greatly increased in the 
county of Stafford, and the coal which lay nearest 
the surface having been for the most part " won," the 
mining interest became very desirous of obtaining some 
more efficient means of clearing the pits of water, in 
order to send the miners deeper into the ground. Wind- 
lass and buckets, wind-mills, horse-gins, rack-and-chain 
pumps, adits, and all sorts of contrivances had been tried, 
and the limit of their powers had been reached. The 
pits were fast becoming drowned out, and the ironmasters 
began to fear lest their manufacture should become lost 
through want of fuel. Under these circumstances they 
were ready to hail the invention of Captain Savery, 
which promised to relieve them of their difficulty. He 
was accordingly invited to erect one of his engines over 
a coal-mine at the Broadwaters, near' Wednesbury. The 
influx of water, however, proved too much for the 
engine ; the springs were so many and so strong, that 
all the means which Savery could employ failed to 
clear the mine of water. To increase the forcing 
power he increased the pressure of steam ; but neither 
boiler nor receiver could endure it, and the steam " tore 
the engine to pieces ; so that, after much time, labour, 
and expense, Mr. Savery gave up the undertaking, and 
the engine was laid aside as useless." l 

He was no more successful with the engine which 
he erected at York-buildings to pump water from the 

Dr. Wilkes in ' Shaw's History of Staffordshire,' i. 85, 119. 



Thames for the supply of the western parts of London. 
Bradley says that to increase its power he doubled every 
part, but " it was liable to so many disorders, if a single 
mistake happened in the working of it, that at length it 
was looked upon as a useless piece of work, and re- 
jected." 1 Savery's later engines thus lost him much of 
the credit which he had gained by those of an earlier 
and simpler construction. It became clear that their 
application was very limited. They involved much 
waste of fuel through the condensation of the hot steam 
pressing upon the surface of the cold water, previous 
to the expulsion of the latter from the vessel ; and 
eventually their use was confined to the pumping of 
water for fountains and the supply of gentlemen's houses, 
and in some cases to the raising of water for the purpose 
of working an overshot water-wheel. Various attempts 
were made to improve the engine by Bradley, by Papin, 
by Desaguliers, and others ; but no great advance was 
made in its construction and method of working until it 
was taken in hand by Newcomen and Galley, whose 
conjoint invention marks an important epoch in the 
history of the steam-engine. 

Not much is known of the later years of Savery's life. 
We find him a Captain of Military Engineers in 1702 ; 2 
and in 1705, with the view of advancing knowledge in 
his special branch of military science, he gave to the 
world a translation, in folio, of Cohorn's celebrated work 
on fortification. The book was dedicated to Prince 
George of Denmark, to whom he was indebted, in the 
same year, for his appointment to the office of Treasurer 
of the Hospital for Sick and Wounded Seamen. Various 
letters and documents are still to be found in the Trans- 

1 Bradley, ' Discourses on Earth 
and Water, &c.' Westminster, 1727. 

2 We are informed by Quarter- 
master Conolly, 11. E., who has given 
much attention to the early history of 
the Royal Engineers, that the book 

of Warrants and Appointments, anno 
1712, No. 172J, in the Tower Kecord- 
room, contains the following memo- 
randum in pencil on the inside cover : 
[Thomas] " Savery, Engineer officer, 



CHAP. 111. 

port Office, Somerset House, addressed to him in that 
capacity. 1 In 1714 he was further indebted to Prince 
George for the appointment of Surveyor to the Water- 
works at Hampton Court ; hut he did not live to enjoy 
it, as he died in the course of the following year. He 
is said to have accumulated considerable property, 
which he bequeathed to his wife, together with all 
interest in his inventions. His will was executed on 
the day of his death, the 15th of May, 1715, and was 
proved four days after in the Prerogative Court of Can- 
terbury. He there described himself as "of the parish 
of Saint Margaret, at Westminster, Esquire." His 
widow herself died before all his effects were adminis- 
tered. There was a considerable amount of unclaimed 
stock, which the Savery family were prevented from 
claiming, as it had passed to the widow ; and it has 
since been transferred to the credit of the National 

1 A pamphlet published in 1712, 
entitled 'An Impartial Inquiry into 
the Management of the War in 
Spain,' contains the following re- 
ference to Savery : " Sums allowed 

by Parliament for carrying on the 
.war in Spain . . . for the year 1710. 
To Thomas Savery, Esq., for Thomas 
Gale, surgeon, for caro of disabled 
soldiers, 306?. 6s. 4d" 




THE invention of the steam-engine had advanced thus 
far with halting steps. A new power had been dis- 
covered, but it was so dangerous and unmanageable 
that it was still doubtful whether it could be applied to 
any useful purpose. What was still wanting was an 
engine strong enough to resist the internal pressure of 
highly-heated steam, and so constructed as to work safely, 
continuously, and economically. Many attempts had 
been made to contrive such a machine ; but, as we have 
shown, the results were comparatively barren. Savery's 
small engine could raise water in moderate quantities to 
limited heights ; but the pumping of deep mines was 
beyond its power. It could force water to a height of 
about sixteen fathoms ; but as the depth of mines at 
that time was from fifty to a hundred yards, it was 
obviously incompetent for their drainage. It is true, 
Savery proposed to overcome the difficulty by erecting 
a series of engines, placed one over another in the shaft 
of the mine ; but the expense of their attendants, the 
great consumption of fuel, the cost of w^ear and tear, 
the constant danger of explosion, and the risk of the 
works being stopped by any one of the engines becoming 
temporarily deranged, rendered it clear that the use of 
liis engine for ordinary mining purposes was altogether 

Such was the state of affairs when Thomas New- 
comen of Dartmouth took up the subject. Compara- 
tively little is known of the personal history of this 
ingenious man. Mechanical inventors excited little 




notice in those days ; they were looked upon as schemers, 
and oftener regarded as objects of suspicion than of 
respect. Thomas Newcomen was by trade an iron- 
monger and a blacksmith. The house in which he lived 
and worked stood, until quite recently, in Lower Street, 
Dartmouth. Like many of the ancient timber houses 
of that quaint old town, it was a building of singularly 
picturesque appearance. Lower Street is very narrow ; 
the houses in it are tall and irregular, with overhanging 
peaked gable-ends. A few years since, Newccmen's 
house began to show indications of decay ; the timber 
supports were fast failing ; and for safety's sake it was 
determined to pull it to the ground. 

1 Newcomen's house occupies the centre of the above engraving the house 
with the peaked gable-end supported by timbers. 




The Newcomen family have long since become extinct 
in Dartmouth. They are said to have left the place 
long ago, and gone northward ; but we have been 
unable to trace them. The Newcomens appear to have 
occupied a respectable position in Dartmouth down to 
about the middle of the last century. Their burying- 
place was in the north-side chapel of the fine old parish 
church of the town, where several tablets are erected to 
their memory. Amongst others, there is one to William 
Newcomin, Attorney-at-Law, who died the 24th of 
August, 1745, aged 57, supposed to have been a brother, 
and another of the same name, who died in 1787, aged 
65, supposed to have been a son of the ironmonger. 

Thomas Newcomen was a man of strong religious 
feelings, and from an early period of his life occupied 
his leisure in voluntary religious teaching. He belonged 
to the sect of Baptists ; and the place was standing until 
recently in which he regularly preached. When he 
afterwards went into distant parts of the country on 
engine business, he continued to devote his Sundays 
to the same work. How he first came to study the 
subject of steam is not known. Mr. Holdsworth says 
a story was current in Dartmouth in his younger days, 
and generally believed, that Newcomen conceived the 
idea of the motive power to be obtained from steam by 
watching the tea-kettle, the lid of which would fre- 
quently rise and fall when boiling ; and, reasoning upon 
this fact, he contrived, by filling a cylinder with steam, 
to raise the piston, and by immediately injecting some 
cold water, to create a vacuum, which allowed the 
weight of the atmosphere to press the piston down, and 
so give motion to a pump by means of a beam and rods. 1 

It is probable that Newcomen was w T ell aware of the 
experiments of Savery on steam while the latter was 
living at Modbury, about fifteen miles distant. It 

1 Pamphlet on 'Dartmouth: the 
advantages of its Harbour as a Station 
for Foreign Mail Packets, and a Short 

Notice of its Ancient and Present 
Condition.' By A. H. Holdsworth. 
London, 1841. 


will be remembered that Savery was greatly hampered 
in his earlier contrivances by the want of skilled 
workmen ; and as Newcomen had the reputation of 
being one of the cleverest blacksmiths in the county, it 
is supposed that he was employed to make some of the 
more intricate parts of Savery's engine. At all events, 
he could scarcely fail to hear from the men of his trade 
in the neighbourhood, what his speculative neighbour at 
Modbury was trying to compass in the invention of an 
engine for the purpose of raising water by fire. He 
was certainly occupied in studying the subject about the 
same time as Savery ; and Switzer says he was well 
informed that " Mr. Newcomen was as early in his in- 
vention as Mr. Savery was in his, only the latter being 
nearer the Court, had obtained the patent before the 
other knew it ; on which account Mr. Newcomen was 
glad to come in as a partner to it." 1 

Another account 2 states that a draft of Savery's engine 
having come under Newcomen's notice, he proceeded to 
make a model of it, which he fixed in his garden, and 
soon found out its imperfections. He entered into a cor- 
respondence on the subject with the learned and inge- 
nious Dr. Hooke, then Secretary to the Eoyal Society, 
a man of remarkable ingenuity, and of great mechanical 
sagacity and insight. Newcomen had heard or read of 
Papin's proposed method of transmitting motive power 
to a distance by creating a vacuum under a piston in a 
cylinder, and transmitting the power through pipes to a 
second cylinder near the mine. Dr. Hooke dissuaded 
Newcomen from erecting a machine on this principle, as 
a waste of time and labour; but he added the pregnant 
suggestion, " could he (meaning Papin) make a speedy 
vacuum under your piston, your work were done." 

The capital idea thus cursorily thrown out of intro- 
ducing a moveable diaphragm between the active power 

1 Switzer, ' Introduction to a System of Hydrostatics and Hydraulics,' p. 342. 

2 Harris, ' Lexicon Technicum.' 


and the vacuum set Newcomen at once upon the right 
track. Though the suggestion was merely that of a 
thoughtful bystander, it was a most important step in 
the history of the invention, for it contained the very 
principle of the atmospheric engine. Savery created 
his vacuum by the condensation of steam in a closed 
vessel, and Papin created his by exhausting the air in a 
cylinder fitted with a piston, by means of an air-pump. 
It remained for Newcomen to combine the two expe- 
dients to secure a sudden vacuum by the condensation 
of steam ; but, instead of employing Savery 's closed 
vessel, he made use of Papin's cylinder fitted with a 
piston. After long scheming and many failures, he at 
length succeeded, in the year 1705, 1 in contriving a 
model that worked with tolerable precision ; after which 
ho sought for an opportunity of exhibiting its powers in 
a full-sized working engine. It ought to be mentioned, 
that in the long course of experiments conducted by 
Newcomen with the object of finding out the new 
motive power, he was zealously assisted throughout by 
one John Galley, a glazier of Dartmouth, of whom 
nothing further is known than that he was Newcomen' s 
intimate friend, of the same religious persuasion, and 
afterwards his partner in the steam-engine enterprise. 

Newcomen's engine may be thus briefly described : 
The steam was generated in a separate boiler, as in 
Saveiy's engine, from which it was conveyed into a 
vertical cylinder underneath a piston fitting it closely, 
but moveable upwards and downwards through its 
whole length. The piston was fixed to a rod, which 

1 It has been stated that New- 
comen took out a patent for his in- 
vention in 1705 ; but this is a mis- 
take, as no patent was ever taken out 
by Newcomen. It is supposed that 
Savery, having heard of his invention, 
gave him notice that he would re- 
gard his method of producing a speedy 
vacuum bv condensation, as an in- 

fringement of his patent, and that 
Newcomen accordingly agreed to give 
him an interest in the new engine 
during the term of Savery's patent. 
It will, however, be observed that the 
principle on which Newcomen's en- 
gine worked was entirely different 
from that of Savery. 


was attached by a joint or a chain to the end of a lever 
vibrating upon an axis, the other end being attached to 
a rod working a pump. When the piston in the cylinder 
was raised, steam was let into the vacated space through 
a tube fitted into the top of the boiler, and mounted 
with a stopcock. The pump-rod at the further end of 
the lever being thus depressed, cold water was applied 
to the sides of the cylinder, on which the steam within 
it was condensed, a vacuum was produced, and the 
external air, pressing upon the top of the piston, forced 
it down into the empty cylinder. The pump-rod was 
thereby raised ; and the operation of depressing and 
raising it being repeated, a power was thus produced 
which kept the pump continuously at work. Such, in a 
few words, was the construction and action of New- 
comen's first engine. 

It will thus be observed that this engine was essen- 
tially different in principle from that of Savery. While 
the latter raised water partly by the force of steam 
and partly by the pressure of the atmosphere, that 
of Newcomen worked entirely by the pressure of the 
atmosphere, steam being only used as the most expe- 
ditious method of producing a vacuum. The engine 
was, however, found to be very imperfect. It was ex- 
ceedingly slow in its motions ; much time was occupied 
in condensing the contained steam by throwing cold 
water on the outside of the cylinder ; and as the boiler 
was placed immediately under the cylinder, it was not 
easy to prevent the cold water from splashing it, and 
thus leading to a further loss of heat. To remedy these 
imperfections, Newcomen and Galley altered the ar- 
rangement ; and, instead of throwing cold water on the 
outside of the cylinder, they surrounded it with cold 
water. But this expedient was also found inconvenient, 
as the surrounding water shortly became warm, and 
ceased to condense until replaced by colder water ; but 
the colder it was the greater was the loss of heat by con- 


densation, before the steam was enabled to fill the cylinder 
again on each ascent of the piston. 

Clumsy and comparatively ineffective though the 
engine was in this form, it was, nevertheless, found of 
some use in pumping water from mines. In 1711 
Newcomen and Galley made proposals to the owners of 
a colliery at Grriff, in Warwickshire, to drain the water 
from their pits, which until then had been drained by 
the labour of horses ; but, the owners not believing in 
the practicability of the scheme, their offer was declined. 
In the following year, however, they succeeded in obtain- 
ing a contract with Mr. Back, for drawing the water 
from a mine belonging to him near Wolverhampton. 
The place where the engine was to be erected being 
near to Birmingham, the ironwork, the pump-valves, 
clacks, and buckets, were for the most part made 
there, and removed td the mine, where they were 
fitted together. Newcomen had great difficulty at first 
in making the engine go ; but after many laborious 
attempts he at last partially succeeded. It was found, 
however, that the new method of cooling the cylinder 
by surrounding it with cold water did not work so well 
in practice as had been expected. The vacuum pro- 
duced was very imperfect, and the action of the engine 
was both very slow and very irregular. 

While the engine was still in its trial state, a curious 
accident occurred which led to another change in the 
mode of condensation, and proved of essential importance 
in establishing Newcomen's engine as a practicable work- 
ing power. The accident was this : in order to keep 
the cylinder as free from air as possible, great pains were 
taken to prevent it passing down by the side of the 
piston, which was carefully wrapped with cloth or 
leather ; and, still further to keep the cylinder air-tight, 
a quantity of water was kept constantly laying on the 
upper side of the piston. At one of the early trials the 
inventors were surprised to see the engine make several 





strokes in unusually quick succession ; and on searching 
for the cause, they found it to consist in a hole in the pis- 
ton, which had let the cold water in a jet into the inside 
of the cylinder, and thereby produced a rapid vacuum 
by the condensation of the contained steam. A new 
light suddenly broke upon Newcomen. The idea of 
condensing by injection of cold water directly into the 
cylinder, instead of applying it on the outside, at once 
occurred to him ; and he proceeded to embody the expe- 
dient which had thus been accidentally suggested, as part 
of his machine. The result was the addition of the in- 
jection-pipe, through which, when the piston was raised 
and the cylinder was full of steam, a jet of cold water was 
thrown in, and the steam being suddenly condensed, 
the piston was at once driven down by the pressure 
of the atmosphere. 

An accident of a different kind shortly after led to 
the improvement of Newcomen's engine in another 
respect. To keep it at work, one man was required to 
attend the fire, and another to turn alternately the two 
cocks, one admitting the steam into the cylinder, the 
other admitting the jet of cold water to condense it. 
The turning of these cocks was easy work, usually 
performed by a boy. It was, however, a very mono- 
tonous duty, though requiring constant attention. To 
escape the drudgery and obtain an interval for rest, or 
perhaps for play, a boy named Humphrey Potter, who 
turned the cocks, set himself to discover some method of 
evading his task. He must have been an ingenious boy, 
as is clear from the arrangement he contrived with 
this object. Observing the alternate ascent and descent 
of the beam above his head, he bethought him of apply- 
ing the movement to the alternate raising and lowering 
of the levers which governed the cocks. The result was 
the contrivance of what he called the scocjgan, 1 consisting 

1 Scogging is a north country word, 
meaning skulking one's work, from 
which probably the boy gave the 

contrivance its name. Potter, how- 
ever, grew up to be a highly-skilled 
workman. He went abroad about 




of a catch worked by strings from the beam of the engine. 
This arrangement, when tried, was found to answer the 
purpose intended. The action of the engine was thus 
made automatic ; and the arrangement, though rude, not 
only enabled Potter to enjoy his play, but it had the 
effect of improving the working power of the engine 
itself; the number of 
strokes which it made 
being increased from 
six or eight to fifteen or 
sixteen in the minute. 
This invention was 
afterwards greatly im- 
proved by Mr. Henry 
Beighton, of New- 
castle -on- Tyne, who 
added the plug -rod 
and hand -gear. He 
did away with the 
catches and strings of 
the boy Potter's rude 
apparatus, and substi- 
tuted a rod suspended 
from the beam, which 
alternately opened and shut the tappets attached to the 
steam and injection cocks. 

Thus, step by step, Newcomen's engine grew in power 
and efficiency, and became more and more complete as 


the year 1720, and erected an engine 
at a mine in Hungary, described by 
Leupold in his 'Theatrum Machina- 
rum,' with many encomiums upon 
Potter, who was considered the in- 

1 The illustration shows the several 
parts of Newcomen's atmospheric en- 
gine, a is the boiler ; 6, the piston 
moving up and down ; c, the cylinder ; 
d, a pipe proceeding from the top of 
the boiler, and inserted into the bottom 
of the cylinder, having a cock, e, to 
interrupt the flow of steam at pleasure ; 

/, cold-water cistern, from which the 
cold water is conveyed by the pipe g, 
called the injection -pipe, and thrown 
in a jet into the cylinder, b, on turning 
the injection-cock, h; the snifting- 
valve, i, enables the air to escape from 
the cylinder, while the siphon-pipe,/, 
enables the condensed steam to flow 
from the same cavity in the form of 
water ; k, the main lever beam ; I, the 
counterpoise or weight hung on the 
balance-beam, or on w, the pump-rod 
which works the pump, n. 

F 2 


a self-acting machine. It will be observed that, like all 
other inventions, it was not the product of any one man's 
ingenuity, but of many. One contributed one improve- 
ment, and another another. The essential features of 
the atmospheric engine were not new. The piston and 
cylinder had been known as long ago as the time of 
Hero. The expansive force of steam and the creation 
of a vacuum by its condensation had been known to the 
Marquis of Worcester, Savery, Papin, and many more. 
Newcomen merely combined in his machine the result 
of their varied experience, and, assisted by the persons 
who worked with him, down to the engine-boy Potter, 
he advanced the invention several important stages ; so 
that the steam-engine was no longer a toy or a scientific 
curiosity, but had become a powerful machine capable of 
doing useful work. 

The comparative success which attended the working 
of Newcomen's first engine at the colliery near Wolver- 
hampton, shortly induced other owners of coal-mines to 
adopt it. There were great complaints in the north, 
of the deeper mines having become unworkable. All 
the ordinary means of pumping them clear of water 
had failed. In their emergency, the colliery-owners 
called Newcomen and Galley to their aid. They were 
invited down to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the neighbour- 
hood of which town they erected their second and third 
engines. They were next summoned to Leeds, and 
erected their fourth engine at Austhorpe, in 1714. It 
was the sight of this engine at work which first induced 
Smeaton, when a boy, to turn his attention to mechanics, 
and eventually led him to study the atmospheric-engine, 
with a view to its improvement. The cylinder of the 
engine erected at Austhorpe, like those which had pre- 
ceded it, was about 23 inches in diameter, and made 
about fifteen strokes a minute. The pumps, which were 
in two lifts, and of 9 inches bore, drew the water from a 
depth of 37 yards. The patentees had 250/. a year for 




working and keeping the engine in order. Galley super- 
intended its erection, and afterwards its working ; but 
he did not long survive its completion, as he died at 
Austhorpe in 1717. 

The next engines were erected by Newcomen in 
Cornwall, where there was as great a demand for in- 
creased pumping-power as in any of the collieries of the 
north. The first of Newcomen's construction in Corn- 
wall was erected in 1720, at the Wheal Fortune tin 
mine, in the parish of Ludgvan, a few miles north-east 
of Penzance. The mine was conducted by Mr. William 
Lemon, the founder of the fortunes of the well-known 
Cornish family. He was born in a humble station in 
life, from which he honourably raised himself by his 
great industry, ability, and energy. He began his career 
as a mining-boy ; was at an early age appointed one of 
the managers of a tin-smelting house at Chiandower, 
near Penzance ; and after the experience gained by him 
in that capacity he engaged in the working of the Wheal 
Fortune mine. With the help of Newcomen's engine,, 
the enterprise proved completely successful; and after 
realising a considerable sum he removed to Truro, and 
began working the great Glwennap mines on such a 
scale as had never before been known in Cornwall. 1 

The Wheal Fortune engine was on a larger scale 
than any that had yet been erected, the cylinder being 
47 inches in diameter, making about fifteen strokes a 
minute. It drew about a hogshead of water at each 
stroke, from a pump 30 fathoms deep, through pit-barrels 

1 Mr. Lemon eventually became the 
principal merchant and tin-smelter 
of Cornwall. Mr. Da vies Gilbert says : 
" The energies of his mind were 
not limited to these undertakings, 
great though they were. He culti- 
vated a taste for literature, and, which 
is extremely unusual, acquired, amidst 
business, and at a middle age, the 
power of reading the classic authors 

in their original language. . . . He 
was distinguished in his district as 
" the great Mr. Lemon," but such were 
the impressions of his abilities, his 
exertions, and general merit, that a 
progress so rapid and unexampled does 
not appear to have excited envy, or 
any of those bad passions which 
usually alloy the enjoyment of pros- 
perity." ' History of Cornwall,' ii. 84. 



15 inches in diameter, and its performances were on 
the whole regarded as very extraordinary. The prin- 
cipal objection to its use consisted in the very large 
quantity of coal that it consumed and the heavy cost of 
maintaining it in working order. There was a great 
waste, especially in boilers, the making of which was 
then ill understood. Smeaton relates that in the course 
of four years' working of the first Austhorpe engine, not 
fewer than four boilers were burnt out. The Wheal 
Fortune engine, however, answered its purpose. It kept 
down the water sufficiently to enable Mr. Lemon to draw 
up his tin, and on leaving the mine, he took with him 


-=---- --.. ..--.-* --JF-. -.,-_, ^_. ... . 

1ORTDNE [By R. F Lriich.] 

to Truro a clear sum of ten thousand pounds. The 
engine-house is now in ruins, and presents a highly 
picturesque appearance, as seen from the heights of 
Trewal, reminding one of a Border Peel rather than 
of a mining engine-house. 

Another of Newcomen's engines was erected about 
the same time at the Wheal Rose mine, a few miles 
north of Bedruth. The engineer appointed to superin- 
tend its erection was Joseph Hornblower, who came from 
Staffordshire for the purpose about the year 1725. Mr. 



Cyrus Redding, one of Horn- 
blower's descendants, says, 
how he became in any way 
connected with Newcomeri 
must have arisen from the 
latter being at Bromsgrove, 
when he visited Mr. Potter, 
who got him to build one 
of his newly - invented en- 
gines at Wolverhampton in 
POI.GOOTH. 1712." 1 Another engine was 

afterwards erected by Horn- 
blower at Whenl Busy, or Chacewater, and a third at 
Polgooth all rich and well-known mines in Cornwall. 

Though the use of Newcomen's engine rapidly ex- 
tended, nothing is known of the man himself during 
this time. All over the mining districts his name was 

1 " It may be interesting to know 
that it required three hands to work 
Newcomen's first engines. I have 
heard it said that when the engine 
was stopped, and again set at work, 
the words were passed " Snift Beniy ! " 
"Blow the fire, Pomery!" "Work 
away, Joe ! " The last let in the con- 
densing water. Lifting the condensing 
clack was called "snifting," because 
on opening UK; valve, the air rushing 
through it made a noise like a man 

snifting. The fire was increased 
through artificial means by another 
hand, and all being ready, the ma- 
chine was set in motion by a third." 
Cyrus Eedding, 'Yesterday and To- 
day.' London, 1863. The " snifting 
clack" was a valve in the cylinder 
opening outwards, which permitted 
the escape of air or permanently 
elastic fluid, which could not be con- 
densed by cold and run off through 
the eduction- pipe. 


identified with the means employed for pumping the 
mines clear of water, and thereby enabling an important 
branch of the national industry to be carried on ; but of 
Newcomen's personal history, beyond what has been stated 
above, we can gather nothing. It is not known when or 
where he died, whether rich or poor. The probability 
is that, being a person of a modest and retiring disposi- 
tion, without business energy, and having secured no 
protection for his invention, it was appropriated and 
made use of by others, without any profit to him, whilst 
he quietly subsided into private life. It is supposed that 
he died at Dartmouth about the middle of last century ; 
but no stone marks the place where he was laid. The 
only memorial of Newcomen to be found at his native 
place is the little steam-boat called by his name, which 
plies between Totness and -Dartmouth. 

During Newcomen's lifetime the proposal was revived 
of applying the steam-engine to the propelling of ships. 
Since Papin's time nothing had been accomplished in 
this direction. Now that the steam-engine was actively 
employed in pumping mines, it was natural enough that 
the idea should be revived of applying it to navigation. 
The most enthusiastic advocate of the new power was 
Jonathan Hulls, a native of Campden, in Gloucestershire, 
where he was born in 1699. He married a wife in 1719, 
before he was out of his teens ; an act of indiscretion 
in which, however, he had the example of one no less 
distinguished than Shakspeare. Living as he did in an 
inland country place, it seems remarkable that he should 
have directed his attention to the subject of steam-navi- 
gation. We find him making experiments with models 
of boats on the river Avon, at Evesham, and in course 
of time he duly matured his ideas and embodied them 
in his patent of 1736. 1 He proposed to place a New- 
comen engine on board a tow-boat, and by its means to 

1 In 1737 he published a Treatise 
on the subject entitled, ' A descrip- 
tion and Draught of a new-invented 
Machine for carrying Vessels or Ships 

out of or into any Harbour, Port, or 
River, against Wind or Tide, and in u 
Calm,' by Jonathan Hulls. 




work a paddle- wheel placed at the stern. His method 
of converting the rectilinear motion of his piston into a 
rotary one was ingenious, but, like Savery, he missed 
the crank on the paddle-shaft, and many years passed 
before this simple expedient was adopted. 1 " The 
work to be done by this machine," said he, " will be 
upon particular occasions, when all other means yet 
found out are wholly insufficient. How often does a 
merchant wish that his ship were on the ocean, when, if 
she were there, the wind would serve tolerably well to 
carry him on his intended voyage, but does not serve at 
the same time to carry him out of the river he happens 
to be in, which a few hours' work of the machine would 
do. Besides, I know engines that are driven by the 
same power as this is, where materials for the purpose 
are dearer than in any navigable river in England; 
therefore experience demonstrates that the expense will 
be but a trifle to the value of the work performed by 
those sort of machines, which any person that knows 
the nature of those things may easily calculate." His 
treatise was illustrated by a drawing, of which the fol- 
lowing is a copy on a reduced scale. 


1 In di'scribing his mode of obtain- 
ing rotary motion by ratchet wheels, 

a wei 

ght, and ropes, Hulls states that 

he uses two axes, one behind the 
other, each of which is essential to 
the object ; and he then adds, that 


The inventor, aware of the novelty of his proposal 
and of the readiness of the public to ridicule novelties, 
deprecated rash censure of his project, and only claimed 
for it a fair and unprejudiced trial. In order to exhibit 
the powers of his steam-boat, he constructed an engine 
in 1737, and had it fixed on board a little vessel for trial 
in the river Avon at Evesham. The trial was not satis- 
factory, and the engine was taken on shore again. " A 
failure ! A failure ! " cried the spectators, who stigma- 
tised the projector as an ass. The prophet had, indeed, 
no honour whatever in his own country. Long after 
his steam-boat experiment had been forgotten, these lines 
about him were remembered : 

" Jonathan Hull, 

With his paper skull, 
'Fried hard to make a machine 
That should go against wind and tide : 
But he, like an ass, 
Couldn't bring it to pass, 
So at last was ashamed to be seen." l 

Not much more is known of Jonathan Hulls' s history. 
In 1754 he published, in conjunction with two others, 
a treatise on ' The Art of Measuring made Easy, by the 
help of a new Sliding-rule ;' and shortly after ' The Malt- 
maker's Instructor ;' but nothing more was heard of 
Jonathan Hulls's steam-boat. 

We return to the Newcomen engine, which became 
increasingly employed as a pumping power in all the 
mining districts. Borlase, writing in 1758, says that 
" fire-engines " were then in regular use at North Downs 

when his tow-boat is to be used in 
shallow rivers, the machine works by 
two cranks fixed to the hindermost 
axis ; to which cranks are fixed two 
shafts (or poles) of proper length to 

rotary motion from the axis on which 
they are placed, and do not, as has 
been erroneously stated, impart that 
motion to it. Bennet Woodcroft, 
' Sketch of the Origin and Progress 

reach the bottom of the river, and of Steam Navigation.' London, 1848. 
which move alternately forward from l There are several versions of the 
the motion of the wheels ~by which the same satire current to this day in the 
vessel is carried on : so that the j villages of Campden and Hanging 
cranks, as described by Hulls, receive ! Aston. 



near Kedruth, Pitt-louarn, Polgooth, Wheal-rith, Pool, 
Dolcoath, Her land, and many other places. 1 Indeed 
there was scarcely a tin or copper mine of any import- 
ance in Cornwall that had not one or more of New- 
come n's engines at work. They were also in general use 
in Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Northumber- 
land. In the latter counties, where they were principally 
used for pumping water out of the coal mines, fuel was 
ready at hand, cheap and abundant. But in Cornwall 
it was otherwise. The coal had to be brought thither 
from a great distance, partly by sea and partly by land, 
and the cost of carriage was very heavy. It, therefore, 
became an object of much importance to reduce the con- 
sumption of fuel, to prevent the profits of the mines 
being absorbed by the heavy cost of working the pumps. 
This, indeed, was the great objection to Newcomen's 
engine, especially in Cornwall. The consumption of 
fuel at some mines was so enormous, that it was doubt- 
ful whether the cost of steam did not exceed that of an 
equal amount of horse power, and it became more and 
more difficult to realise even a bare margin of profit. 
The two engines at Wheal Rose and Wheal Busy, near 
Chace water, of 66 and 72 inches diameter, consumed 
each about thirteen tons of coal daily. To relieve the 
mining interest, in some measure, from this charge, 
government allowed a drawback of five shillings a 
chaldron on coal ; but in some cases this was found 
insufficient, and it began to be complained that the 
consumption of coal was so great, that the mines were 
barely paying. 

Invention, however, was constantly at work, and 
new improvements were from time to time introduced, 
with the object of economising fuel and increasing the 
efficiency of the engine. Among the ingenious men 
who devoted themselves to this work, were Payne, 

Borlase, 'Natural History of Cornwall,' p. 175. 




Brindley, and Smeaton. Of these, the last especially 
distinguished himself by his improvements of the New- 
comen engine, which he may be said to have carried 
to the highest perfection of which it was capable. His 
famous Chacewater engine was the finest and most 
powerful work of the kind which had until then been 
constructed, and it remained unrivalled until super- 
seded by the invention of Watt, to whose life and 
labours we now proceed to direct the attention of the 




[By R. P. Leitch. after a sketch by J S Smiles ] 

[Fac-simile of an old print..] 



JAMES WATT was born at G-reenock, on the Clyde, on 
the 19th of January, 1736. His parents were of the 
middle class, industrious, intelligent, and religious 
people, with a character for probity which had de- 
scended to them from their " forbears," and was che- 
rished as their proudest inheritance. James Watt was 
thus emphatically well-born. His father and grand- 
father both held local offices of trust, and honourable 
mention is made of them in the records of Greenock. 
His grandfather, Thomas Watt, was the first of the 
family who lived in that neighbourhood. He had mi- 
grated thither from the county of Aberdeen, where his 
father was a small farmer in the time of Charles I. It 
is supposed that he took part with the Covenanters in 
resisting the Marquis of Montrose in his sudden descent 
upon Aberdeen at the head of his wild Highlanders in 


the autumn of 1644 ; and that the Covenanting farmer 
was killed in one of the battles that ensued. The dis- 
trict was ravaged by the victorious Royalists ; the crops 
were destroyed, cattle lifted, dwellings burnt ; and many 
of the inhabitants fled southwards for refuge in more 
peaceful districts. Hence Thomas Watt's migration to 
Cartsdyke, where we find him settled as a teacher of 
navigation and mathematics, about the middle of the 
seventeenth century. 

Cartsdyke, or Crawfordsdyke, was then a village 
situated a little to the east of G-reenock, though now 
forming part of it. Crawfordsburn House, still standing, 
was the residence of the lord of the manor, and is a good 
specimen of the old-fashioned country mansion. It is 


beautifully situated on the high ground overlooking the 
Clyde. In former times a green slope stretched down 
from it towards the beach, along which lay the village, 
consisting of about a hundred cottages, mostly thatched. 
Cartsdyke was, however, in early times, a place of greater 
importance than G-reenock. It had a pier, which 
Greenock as yet had not ; and from this pier the first 
Clyde ship which crossed the Atlantic sailed for Darien 
in 1697. What little enterprise existed in the neigh- 


bourhood was identified with Cartsdyke rather than 
with Greenock ; and hence Thomas Watt's preference 
for it, in setting up there as a teacher. He, too, like his 
sire, seems to have been a sturdy Covenanter ; for we 
find him, in 1683, refusing to take the test in favour of 
prelacy, and he was consequently proclaimed to be a 
"disorderly schoolmaster officiating contrary to law." 
He nevertheless continued the teaching of the mathe- 
matics, in which he seems to have prospered, as, besides 
marrying a wife, he shortly after bought the house and 
garden which he occupied, and subsequently added to 
his possessions a tenement in the neighbouring village 
of Greenock. 

From the nature of his calling, it is obvious that he 
must have been a thoughtful and intelligent person ; l 
and that he was a man of excellent character is clear 
from the confidence he inspired in those who had the 
best opportunities of knowing him. When William 
and Mary were confirmed in their occupancy of the 
British throne, shortly after the Revolution of 1688, 
one of the first acts of Mr. Crawford, of Crawfordsburn, 
the feudal superior, was to appoint Thomas Watt baillie 
of the barony a position of local importance, involving 
the direction of public affairs within the limits of his 

A few years later, the Kirk Session of Greenock, 
having found him " blameless in life and conversation," 
appointed him an Elder of the parish, when it became 
part of his duty to overlook not only the religious 
observances, but the manners and morals, of the little 
community. Kirk Sessions did not then confine them- 
selves to ecclesiastical affairs, but assumed the function 
of magistrates, and almost exercised the powers of an 

1 Among the few household articles 
belonging to him which descended to 
his son, and afterwards to his grand- 

one of Sir Isaac Newton, and the 
other of John Napier, the inventor of 

son the engineer, were two portraits, 



inquisition. One of their most important duties was to 
provide for the education of the rising generation, in 
pursuance of the injunction of John Knox, "that no 
father, of what estate or condition that ever he may be, 
use his children at his own fantasie, especially in their 
youthhead ; but all must be compelled to bring up their 
children in learning and virtue," words which lie at 
the root of much of Scotland's mental culture, as well 
as, probably, of its material prosperity. In 1696 
the Act was passed by the Scotch Parliament which is 
usually regarded as the charter of the Scotch parish- 
school system ; and in the following year the Kirk Ses- 
sion of Greenock proceeded to make provision for the 
establishment of their parish school, which continued 
until the Town Council superseded it by the Grammar 
School, at which James Watt, the future engineer, re- 
ceived the best part of his school education. 

After holding the offices of Presbytery Elder and 
Kirk Treasurer for some time, Thomas Watt craved 
leave to retire into private life. He was seventy years 
old, and felt infirmities growing upon him. The plea 
was acknowledged, and the request granted ; and on his 
retirement from office the Kirk Session recorded on 
their minutes that Thomas Watt had been found " dili- 
gent and faithful in the management of his trust." He 
died at the age of 92, and was buried in the old kirk- 
yard of Greenock, where his tombstone is still to be 
seen. He is there described as " Professor of Mathe- 
matics in Crawfordsdyk." Not far from his grave lie, 
"mouldering in silent dust," the remains of Burns' s 
Highland Mary, who died while on a visit to a relative 
at Greenock. 

Two sons survived the " Professor," John and James, 
who were well settled in life when the old man died. 
John, the elder, was trained by his father in mathe- 
matics and surveying ; for some time officiating under 
him as clerk to the barony of Cartsdyke, and afterwards 


removing to Glasgow, where he began business on his 
own account. In the year that his father died (1734) 
he made the first survey of the river Clyde ; but he 
died shortly after, and the map was published by his 
nephew. James, the engineer's father, was bound ap- 
prentice to a carpenter and shipwright at Cartsdyke, 
and on the expiry of his term he set up business for 
himself in the same line at Greenock. 

About the beginning of the last century, Greenock, 
now one of the busiest ports in the kingdom, was but a 
little fishing-village, consisting of a single row of 
thatched cottages lying parallel with the sandy beach of 
the Frith of Clyde, in what was then known as " Sir 
John's little bay." Sir John Shaw was the superior, or 
lord of the manor, his mansion standing on a height 
overlooking the tow^n, 1 and commanding an extensive 
view of the Clyde, from Roseneath to Dumbarton. 
Across the water lay the beautiful north shore, broken 
by the long narrow sea-lochs running far away among 
the Argyleshire hills. Their waters, now plashed by 
the paddles of innumerable Clyde steamers, were then 
only disturbed by the passing of an occasional Highland 
coble ; whilst their shores, now fringed with villages, 
villas, and mansions, were as lonely as Glencoe. 

Greenock was in a great measure isolated from other 
towns by impassable roads. The only route to Gree- 
nock, on the west, lay along the beach, and when strong 
winds raised a high tide the communication was en- 
tirely cut off. Greenock was separated from Cartsdyke, 
on the east, by the Ling Burn, which was crossed by a 
plank, afterwards supplanted by an old ship's rudder ; 
and it was about the middle of the century before a 

The mansion house of the Shaws 
is now principally occupied as ma- 

ffices. Tin 

norial offices. The fine old garden 
and pleasure-grounds have been pre- 
sented by Sir John Shaw to the 

for ever. It is now called " The 
Watt Park," and a more beautiful 
spot (bating the smoke of the busy 
town below) is scarcely to be found 
in Britain. 

people of Greenock as a public park I 

G 2 




bridge was built across the stream. The other provi- 
sions of the place for public service and convenience 
were of a like rude and primitive character : thus, 
GTreenock could not boast of a public clock until about 
the middle of the last century, when a town clock was 
mounted in a wooden steeple. Till then, a dial, still 
standing, marked the hours when the sun shone, and a 
bell hung upon a triangle summoned the people to kirk 
and market. Besides the kirk, however, there was 
another public building the Black Hole, or prison, 
which, like the other houses in the place, was covered 
with thatch. Before the prison were placed the "jougs," 
as a terror to evil-doers, as well as a few old pieces of 
cannon, taken from one of the ships of the Spanish 
Armada wrecked near Pencores Castle. The Black 
Hole, the jougs, and the cannon were thought necessary 
precautions against the occasional visits to which the 
place was subject from the hungry Highlandmen on 
the opposite shores of the firth. 1 

The prosperity of G-reenock dates from the year 1707, 
shortly after the Union with England. The British 
Parliament then granted what the Scottish Parliament 
had refused the privilege of constructing a harbour. 
Before that time there was no pier, only a rude 
landing-stage which Sir John Shaw had provided for 
his barge in the " Little Bay ;" but the fishermen's 

1 In 1715 the Greenock and Carts- 
dyke men kept strict watch and 
ward for eighty days against a threat- 
ened visit of Rob Hoy and his caterans. 
The conduct of these unruly neigh- 
bours continued to cause apprehen- 
sions amongst the townspeople until 
a much later period, especially during 
fair time, then the great event of the 
year. The fair was the occasion of 
the annual gathering of the people 
from the neighbouring country to 
buy and to sell. Highlandmen came 
from the opposite shores and from 
the lochs down the Clyde, men caring 
little for Lowland law, but duly im- 

pressed by a display of force. Their 
boats were drawn up on the beach 
with their prows to the High Street, 
the north side of which at that time 
lay open to the sea. The Highland 
folk lived and slept on board, each 
boat having a plank or gangway 
between it and the shore. On the 
first day of the fair Sir John Shaw, 
the feudal superior, convened the 
local dignitaries, the deacons and the 
trades, and after drinking the King's 
health and throwing the glasses 
amongst the populace, they formed 
in procession and perambulated the 


boats and other small craft frequenting the place were 
beached in the usual primitive way. Yessels of burden 
requiring to load or unload their cargoes did so at the 
pier at Cartsdyke above referred to. When the neces- 
sary powers were granted to make a harbour at G-ree- 
nock, the inhabitants proceeded to tax themselves to 
provide the necessary means, paying a shilling and 
fourpence for every sack of malt brewed into ale within 
the barony ; ale, not whisky, being then the popular 
drink of Scotland. The devotion of the townspeople to 
their " yill caups " must have been considerable, as the 
harbour was finished and opened in 1710, and in thirty 
years the principal debt was paid off. 

In course of time Grreenock was made a custom- 
house port, and its trade rapidly increased. The first 
solitary vessel, freighted with Glasgow merchandise 
for the American colonies, sailed from the new har- 
bour in 1719 ; and now the custom-house dues col- 
lected there amount to more than six times the whole 
revenue of Scotland in the time of the Stuarts. 

Here James Watt, son of the Cartsdyke teacher of 
mathematics, and father of the engineer, began business 
about the year 1730. His occupation was of a very 
miscellaneous character, and embraced most branches of 
carpentry. He was a house wright, shipwright, car- 
penter, and undertaker, as well as a builder and con- 
tractor, having in the course of his life enlarged the 
western front of Sir John Shaw's mansion-house, and 
designed and built the Town-hall and Council-chambers. 
To these various occupations Mr. Watt added that of a 
general merchant. He supplied the ships frequenting 
the port with articles of merchandise as well as with 
ships ? stores. He also engaged in foreign mercantile 
ventures, and held shares in several ships. 

Three months after the death of his father, to a share 
of whose property he succeeded, Mr. Watt purchased a 
house on the Mid-Quay Head, at the lower end of 




William-street, with a piece of ground belonging to it, 
which extended to the beach. On this piece of ground 
stood Watt's carpenter's shop, in which a great deal of 
miscellaneous work was executed household furniture 
and ships' fittings, chairs, tables, coffins, and capstans, as 
well as the ordinary sorts of joinery ; while from his 
stores he was ready to supply blocks, pumps, gun-car- 
riages, dead-eyes, and other articles used on board ship. 
He was ready to " touch " ships' compasses, and to adjust 
and repair nautical instruments generally ; while on an 
emergency he could make a crane for harbour uses 
the first in G-reenock having been executed in his shops, 
and erected on the pier for the convenience of the Vir- 
ginia tobacco-ships beginning to frequent the harbour. 
These multifarious occupations were necessitated by 
the smallness of the place, the business of a single 
calling being as yet too limited to yield a competency 
to an enterprising man, or sufficient scope for his 

Being a person of substance and respectability, Mr. 
Watt was elected by his fellow townsmen to fill various 
public offices, such as trustee for the burgh fund, town 
councillor, treasurer, and afterwards baillie or chief 
magistrate. He also added to his comfort as well as to 
his dignity by marrying a wife of character, Agnes 
Muirhead, a woman esteemed by her neighbours for her 
graces of person, as well as of mind and heart. She is 
said to have been not less distinguished for her sound 
sense and good manners than for her cheerful temper 
and excellent housewifery. 1 Such was the mother of 

1 Some of her neighbours thought 
her stately and unbending, and that 
she affected a superior style of living. 
In the ' Memorials of Watt,' by the 
late George Williamson, Esq., Gree- 
nock, are to be found many curious 
and interesting details as to the Watt 
family; collected partly from tradi- 
tion and partly from local records. 

Of Mrs. Watt's " superior style of 
living," compared with the custom of 
the period, the following anecdote is 
given : " One of the author's in- 
formants on such points, a venerable 
lady in her eightieth year, was wont 
to spwik of the worthy baillie's wife 
with much characteristic interest and 
animation. As illustrative of the 




James Watt. Three of her five children died in child- 
hood ; John, her fifth son, perished at sea when on a 
voyage to America in one of his father's ships; and 
James, the fourth of the family, remained her only sur- 
viving child. He was born in the house which stood at 
the corner between the present Dairy m pie-street and 
William-street, since taken down and replaced by the 
building- now known as the " James Watt Tavern." 

[By R P. Leitch] 

From his earliest years James Watt was of an ex- 
tremely fragile constitution, requiring the tenderest 
nurture. Struggling as it were for life all through his 
childhood, he acquired an almost feminine delicacy and 
sensitiveness, which made him shrink from the rough 
play of robust children ; and hence, during his early 
years, his education was entirely conducted at home. 
His mother taught him reading, and his father a little 
writing and arithmetic. His mother, to amuse him, 

internal economy of the family, the 
old lady related an occasion on which 
she had spent an evening, when a 
girl, at Mrs. Watt's house, and re- 
membered expressing with much 
naivetl to her mother on returning 
home, her childish surprise that 
* Mrs. Watt had two lighted candles 

on the table.' Among these and 
other reminiscences of her youth, our 
venerable informant described James 
Watt's mother, in her expressive 
Doric, as 'a braw, braw woman 
none now to be seen like her.' " p. 


encouraged him to draw with a pencil on paper, or with 
chalk upon the floor ; and his father supplied him with 
a few tools from the carpenter's shop, which he soon 
learnt to handle with expertness. In such occupations 
he found the best resource against ennui. He took his 
toys to pieces, and out of the parts ingeniously con- 
structed new ones. The mechanical dexterity which he 
thus cultivated even as a child was probably in a great 
measure the foundation upon which he built the specu- 
lations to which he owes his glory ; nor, without his 
early mechanical training, is there reason to believe that 
he would afterwards become the improver and almost 
the creator of the steam-engine. 

The invalid thus passed his early years almost entirely 
in the society of his mother, whose gentle nature, strong 
good sense, and unobtrusive piety, exercised a most 
beneficial influence in the formation of his character. 
Nor were his parents without their reward ; for as the 
boy grew up to manhood he repaid their anxious care 
with obedience, respect, and affection. Mrs. Watt was 
in after life accustomed to say that the loss of her only 
daughter, which she had felt so severely, had been fully 
made up to her by the dutiful attentions of her son. 

Spending his life indoors, without exercise, his nervous 
system became preternaturally sensitive. He was subject 
to violent sick headaches, which confined him to his 
room for weeks together ; and it almost seems a marvel 
that, under such circumstances, he should have survived 
his boyhood. It is in such cases as his that indications 
of precocity are generally observed ; and parents would 
be less gratified at their display if they knew that they 
are usually the symptoms of disease. Several remark- 
able instances of this precocity are related of Watt. On 
one occasion, when he was bending over the hearth with 
a piece of chalk in his hand, a friend of his father said, 
" You ought to send that boy to a public school, and not 
allow him to trifle away his time at home." " Look how 


my child is occupied," said the father, " before you con- 
demn him." Though only six years old, it is said he 
was found trying to solve a problem in geometry. 

On another occasion he was reproved by Mrs. Muir- 
head, his aunt, for his indolence at the tea-table. " James 
Watt," said the worthy lady, " I never saw such an idle 
boy as you are : take a book or employ yourself usefully ; 
for the last hour you have not spoken one word, but 
taken off the lid of that kettle and put it on again, 
holding now a cup and now a silver spoon over the steam, 
watching how it rises from the spout, catching and 
counting the drops it falls into." In the view of M. 
Arago, the little James before the tea-kettle becomes 
a the great engineer, preparing the discoveries which 
were soon to immortalize him." In our opinion the 
judgment of the aunt was the truest. There is no reason 
to suppose that the mind of the boy was occupied with 
philosophical theories on the condensation of steam, 
which he compassed with so much difficulty in his 
maturer years. This is more probably an, afterthought 
borrowed from his subsequent discoveries. Nothing is 
commoner than for children to be amused with such 
phenomena, in the same way that they will form air- 
bubbles in a cup of tea, and watch them sailing over the 
surface till they burst. The probability is that little 
James was quite as idle as he seemed. 

When he was at length sent to Mr. M' Adam's com- 
mercial school, the change caused him many trials and 
much suffering. He found himself completely out of 
place in the midst of the boisterous juvenile republic. 
Against the tyranny of the elders he was helpless ; their 
wild play was most distasteful to him ; he could not join 
in their sports, nor roam with them along the beach, 
nor shy stones into the water, nor take part in their 
hazardous exploits in the harbour. Accordingly they 
showered upon him contemptuous epithets ; and the 
school being composed of both sexes, the girls joined in 



('HAP. V. 

the laugh. He shone as little in the class as in the 
playground. He did not possess that parrot power of 
learning and confidence in self necessary to achieve 
distinction at school ; and he was even considered dull 
and backward for his age. 1 His want of progress 
may, however, in some measure be accounted for by his 
almost continual ailments, which sometimes kept him 
for weeks together at home. It was not until he reached 
the age of about thirteen or fourteen, when he was put 
into the mathematical class, that his powers appeared to 
develop themselves, and from that time he made rapid 

When not quite fourteen, he was taken by his mother 
for change of air to Glasgow, then a quiet place without 
a single long chimney, somewhat resembling a rural 
market-town of the present day. He was left in charge 
of a relation, and his mother returned to Greenock. But 
he proved so wakeful during the visit, and so disposed 
to indulge in that habit of storytelling, which even Sir 
Walter Scott could afterwards admire in him, that Mr. 
Watt was very soon written to by his friend, and en- 
treated to return to Glasgow and take home, his son. 
" I cannot stand the excitement he keeps me in," said 
Mrs. Campbell ; "I am worn out for want of sleep. 
Every evening, before retiring to rest, he contrives to 
engage me in conversation, then begins some striking 
tale, and whether humorous or pathetic, the interest is 
so overpowering, that the family all listen to him with 
breathless attention, and hour after hour strikes un- 

1 The truth in regard to young 
Watt's first years in the public school 
is, that, owing doubtless to infirm 
health, to the suffering and depres- 
sion which affected his whole powers, 
he was prevented for a considerable 
time displaying even a very ordi- 
nary and moderate aptitude for the 
common routine of school lessons ; 
and during those years he was re- 
garded by his schoolmasters as slow 

and inapt. Although to some minds 
facts of such a nature may be con- 
ceived to mar the romance of a great 
man's history, yet, seeing they rest 
on authenticity which cannot be im- 
pugned, there appears no reasonable 
ground on which it may be thought 
that they ought to be passed over 
as if they had not existed, or were 
altogether unfounded. Williamson's 
' Memorials of Watt,' p. 130. 


heeded." He was taken back to Greenock accordingly, 
and, when well enough, was sent to the Grammar School 
of the town, then kept by Mr. Eobert Arrol. Under 
him, Watt made fair progress in the rudiments of Latin 
and Greek ; but he was still more successful in the study 
of mathematics, which he prosecuted under Mr. John 
Marr. It was only when he entered on this branch of 
learning that he discovered his strength, and he very 
soon took the lead in his class. 

When at home the boy continued to spend much of 
his time in drawing, or in cutting or carving with his 
penknife, or in watching the carpenters at work in 
his father's shop, sometimes trying his own hand at 
making little articles with the tools which lay about. In 
this he displayed a degree of dexterity which seemed so 
remarkable that the journeymen were accustomed to say 
of him that " little Jamie had gotten a fortune at his 
fingers' ends." Even when he had grown old he would 
recall to mind the pleasure as well as the profit which 
he had derived from working in his shirt -sleeves 
in his father's shop. He was, in fact, educating him- 
self in the most effectual manner in his own way ; 
learning to use his hands dexterously; familiarising 
himself with the art of handling tools ; and acquiring a 
degree of expertness in working with them in wood 
and metal, which eventually proved of the greatest 
value to him. At the same time he was training 
himself in habits of application, industry, and inven- 
tion. Most of his spare time was thus devoted to me- 
chanical adaptations of his own contrivance. A small 
forge was erected for him, and a bench fitted up for his 
special use ; and there he constructed many ingenious 
little objects, such as miniature cranes, pulleys, pumps, 
and capstans. Out of a large silver coin he fabricated 
a punch-ladle, which is still preserved. But the kind 
of work which most attracted him was the repairing of 
ships' compasses, quadrants, and nautical instruments, 




in executing which he exhibited so much neatness, dex- 
terity, and accuracy, that it eventually led to his selec- 
tion of the business he determined to follow, that of a 
mathematical instrument maker. 

The boy at the same time prosecuted his education at 
\school; his improving health enabling him to derive 
more advantage from the instructions of his masters 
thaXin the earlier part of his career. Not the least in- 
fluentral part of his training, as regarded the formation 
of his character, consisted, as already observed, in the 
example and conversation of his parents at home. His 
frequent illnesses brought him more directly and conti- 
nuously under their influence than is the case with most 
boys of his age ; and reading became one of his chief 
sources of recreation and enjoyment. His father's library- 
shelf contained well-thumbed volumes of Boston, Bunyan, 
and ' The Cloud of Witnesses,' with Henry the Rymer's 
' Life of Wallace,' and other old ballads, tattered by fre- 
quent use. These he devoured greedily, and re-read 
until he had most of them by heart. His father would 
also recount to him the sufferings of the Covenanters, 
the moors and mosses which lay towards the south of 
Greenock having been among their retreats during the 
times of the persecution. Then there were the local and 
traditionary stories of the neighbourhood, such as the 
exploits of the Greenock men under Sir John Shaw, at 
Worcester, in 165 1, 1 together with much of that .un- 
written history, heard only around firesides, which 
kindles the Scotchman's nationality, and influences his 
future life. 

We may here mention, in passing, that one of the 
most vividly-remembered incidents of James Watt's 
boyhood was the Stuart rebellion of the " Forty-five," 

1 The Shaw baronetcy was the 
reward of the feudal superior's ser- 
vices on the occasion. The banner 
carried by the tenantry in the civil 

war was long preserved in Greenock, 
and was hung up with the other 
town flags in one of the public rooms. 


which occurred when he was about ten years old. Watt 
himself is so intimately identified with the material pro- 
gress of the nineteenth century, that it strikes one almost 
with surprise that he should have been a spectator, in 
however remote a degree, of incidents belonging to an 
altogether different age. The Stuart Rebellion may be 
said to have been the end of one epoch and the beginning 
of another ; for certain it is that the progress of Scot- 
land as an integral part of the British empire, and the 
growth of its skilled industry which the inventions of 
Watt did so much to develop appeared as if to spring 
from the very ashes of the rebellion. Like other low- 
land towns, Greenock was greatly alarmed at the start- 
ling news from the Highlands of the threatened descent 
of the clans. Sir John Shaw had the trades mustered 
for drill on the green in front of his mansion, and held 
them in readiness for defence of the town, in case of 
attack. G-reenock was otherwise secure, being protected 
against the Highlands by the Clyde ; besides, the western 
clans were either neutral or adhered to the house of 
Hanover. The Pretender with his followers passed 
southward by Stirling, and only approached Greenock 
on their return from England, a half-starved and ill- 
clad, though still unbroken army. They halted at Glas- 
gow, where they levied a heavy contribution on the 
inhabitants, and sent out roving parties to try their 
fortunes in the neighbouring towns. A small detach- 
ment one day approached Greenock, and came as near 
as the Clune Brae ; but the townspeople were afoot, and 
on guard ; signal was given to the ships of war moored 
near the old battery, and a few well-directed shots 
speedily sent the Highlanders to the right-about. The 
alarm was over for the present ; but it was renewed in 
the following year, when the rumour reached Edinburgh 
that Prince Charles, hunted from the Highlands, had 
landed at Greenock, and lay concealed there. The con- 
sequence was that a strict search was made throughout 


the town, and Mr. Watt's premises were searched like 
the others ; but the Pretender had contrived to escape 
in another direction. Such was one of the most memo- 
rable incidents in the boy-life of James Watt, so strangely 
in contrast with the later events of his industrial career. 

During holiday times, the boy sometimes indulged 
in rambles along the Clyde, occasionally crossing to the 
north shore, and strolling up the Gare Loch and Holy 
Loch, and even as far as Ben Lomond. He was of a 
solitary disposition, and loved to wander by himself at 
night amidst the wooded pleasure-grounds which sur- 
rounded the old mansion-house overlooking the town, 
watching through the trees the mysterious movements 
of the stars. He became fascinated by the wonders of 
astronomy, and was stimulated to inquire into the science 
by the examination of the nautical instruments which 
he found amongst his father's shop-stores. For it was 
a peculiarity which characterised him through life, that 
he could not look upon any instrument or machine with- 
out being seized with a desire to understand its mean- 
ing, to unravel its mystery, and master the rationale of 
its uses. Before he was fifteen he had twice gone 
through with great attention S'Gravande's 'Elements 
of Natural Philosophy,' a book belonging to his father. 
He performed many little experiments in chemistry, and 
even contrived to make an electrical machine, much to 
the marvel of those who felt its shocks. Like most 
invalids, he read eagerly such books on medicine and 
surgery as came in his way. He went so far as to prac- 
tise dissection ; and on one occasion he was found carry- 
ing off for this purpose the head of a child who had died 
of some uncommon disease. " He told his son," says 
Mr. Muirhead, " that, had he been able to bear the sight 
of the sufferings of patients, he would have been a 

In his solitary rambles, his love of wild-flowers and 
plants lured him on to the study of botany. Ever ob- 


servant of the aspects of nature, the violent upheavings 
of the mountain-ranges on the north shores of Loch 
Lomond directed his attention to geology. He was a 
great devourer of books ; reading all that came in his 
way. On a friend once advising him to he less indis- 
criminate in his reading, he replied, " I have never yet 
read a book without gaining information, instruction, 
or amusement." This was no answer to the admonition 
of his friend, who merely recommended him to bestow 
upon the best books the time he devoted to the worse. 
But the appetite for knowledge in inquisitive minds is, 
during youth, when curiosity is fresh and unslacked, too 
insatiable to be fastidious, and the volume which gets 
the preference is usually the first which comes in the 

Watt was not, however, a mere bookworm. In his 
solitary walks through the country he would enter the 
cottages of the peasantry, gather their local traditions, 
and impart to them information of a similar kind from 
his own ample stores. Fishing, which suited his tranquil 
nature, was his single sport. When unable to ramble 
for the purpose, he could still indulge the pursuit from 
his father's yard, which was open to the sea, and the 
water of sufficient depth at high-tide to enable vessels of 
fifty or sixty tons to lie alongside. 

But James Watt had now arrived at a suitable age to 
learn a trade ; and his rambles must come to a close. 
His father had originally intended him to follow his own 
business ; but having sustained some heavy losses about 
this time one of his ships having foundered at sea, 
and observing the strong bias of his son towards mani- 
pulative science and exact mechanics, he at length de- 
cided to send him to Glasgow, in the year 1754, when 
he was eighteen years old, to learn the trade of a mathe- 
matical instrument maker. 






WHEN James Watt, a youth of eighteen, went to 
Glasgow in 1754 to learn his trade, the place was very 
different from the Glasgow of to-day. Not a steam- 
engine was then at work in the town ; not a steam-boat 
disturbed the quiet of the Clyde. There was a rough 
quay along the Broomielaw, then, as the name implies, 
partly covered with broom. The quay was furnished 
with a solitary crane, for which there was very little 
use, as the river was full of sandbanks, and boats and 
gabberts of only six tons burden and under could then 
ascend the Clyde. 1 Often for weeks together not a 
single masted vessel was to be seen in the river. The 
principal buildings in the town were the Cathedral and 
the University. The west port, now in the centre of 
Glasgow, was then a real barrier between the town 
and the country. The ground on which Enoch-square 
stands consisted chiefly of gardens. A thick wood 
occupied the site of the present Custom-house and of 
that part of Glasgow situated behind West Clyde-street. 
Blythswood was grazing-ground. Not a house had yet 
been erected in Hutchinson-town, Laurieston, Tradeston, 
or Bridge ton. The land between Jamaica-street on the 
east, and Stobcross on the west, and south from Ander- 
ston-road to the river, now the most densely populated 
parts of Glasgow, consisted of fields and cabbage-gardens. 

1 According to Smeaton's report in 
1755, there were in spring tides only 
3 feet 8 inches water at Pointhouse 
Ford. Measures were taken to deepen 
the river, and operations with that 
object were begun in 1768. Salmon 

abounded in the Clyde, and was so 
common that servants and apprentices 
were accustomed to stipulate that 
they should not have salmon for 
dinner more than a certain number 
of days in the week. 



The town had but two main streets, which intersected 
each other at the Cross or Market-place, and the only 
paved part of them was known as " The Plainstanes," 
which extended for a few hundred yards in front of the 
public offices and the Town-hall. The two main streets 


contained some stately well-built houses Flemish-look- 
ing tenements with crow-stepped gables, the lower 
stories standing on Doric columns, under which were 
the principal booths or shops small, low-roofed, and 
dismal. But the bulk of the houses had only wooden 
fronts and thatched roofs, and were of a very humble 
character. The traffic along the unpaved streets was so 
small, that the carts were left standing in them at night. 
? The town was as yet innocent of police ; l it contained 

1 The " middens " in the street threatened a penalty of 5s. if middens 
were sometimes complained of as a of which complaint had been made 
nuisance; and in 1770, the magistrate I were not removed within 48 hours. 




no Irish immigrants, and very few Highlanders. The 
latter then thought it beneath them to engage in any 
pursuit connected with commerce ; and Eob Roy's con- 
tempt for the wabsters of Glasgow, as described by Sir 
Walter Scott in the novel, was no exaggeration. No 
Highland gentleman, however poor, would dream of 
condemning his son to the drudgery of trade ; and even 
the poorest Highland cottar would shrink with loathing 
from the life of a weaver or a shopkeeper. He would 
be a hunter, a fisher, a cattle-lifter, or a soldier ; but 
trade he would not touch that he left to the Low- 
landers. 1 

The principal men of business in Glasgow at the time 
of which we speak were the tobacco lords importers 
of that article from the plantations in Virginia, 2 who 

1 The Highland gentry and people 
regarded the Lowlanders as their 
natural enemies, fair subjects for 
plunder at all times as opportunities 
offered. The Lowlanders, on their 
part, regarded the Highlanders very 
much as the primitive settlers of 
North America regarded the Cherokee 
and Chocktaw Indians. Sometimes a 
band of uncouth half-clad Highland- 
men would suddenly rush down upon 
the Lowlands, swoop up all the cattle 
w r ithin their reach, and drive them 
off into the mountains. Hence the 
Lowlanders and the Highlanders were 
always in a state of feud. Long after 
the '45 a Highlandman would " thank 
God that he had not a drop of Lowland 
blood in his veins." 

2 The only trade which Glasgow 
carried on with foreign countries pre- 
vious to the Union, was in coal, grind- 
stones, and fish, Glasgow - cured 
herrings being in much repute 
abroad. After the Union partnerships 
were formed ; vessels were built down 
the Clyde, and chartered for carrying 
on the trade with Virginia, Maryland, 
and Carolina. The first honest vessel 
crossed the Atlantic from the Clyde 
in 1719 ; in 1735 the Virginia mer- 
chants in Glasgow had fifteen vessels 
engaged in the trade, and the town 

shortly after became the great mart 
for tobacco. Of the 90,000 hogsheads 
imported into the United Kingdom 
in 1772, Glasgow alone imported 
49,000, or more than one-half. The 
American Revolution had the effect 
of completely ruining the tobacco 
trade of Glasgow, after which the 
merchants were compelled to turn 
to other fields of enterprise and in- 
dustry. The capital which they had 
accumulated from tobacco enabled 
them to enter -upon their new un- 
dertakings with spirit, and the steam- 
engine which had by that time been 
invented by their townsman James 
Watt, proved their best helper in ad- 
vancing the prosperity of modern 
Glasgow. The rapidity of its progress 
may be inferred from the following 
facts. In 1735, though the Glasgow 
merchants owned half the entire 
tonnage of Scotland, it amounted to 
only 5600 tons. In that year the 
whole shipping of Scotland was only 
one-fortieth part of that of England : 
it is now about one-fifth. From 1752 
to 1 770 the total tonnage dues of the 
harbour of Glasgow amounted to only 
147Z., or equal to an average of about 
SL per annum. In 1780, the Clyde 
having been deepened in the interval, 
they reached 1515Z. ; and in 1854, 




were often to be seen strutting along the Plainstanes, 
dressed in scarlet cloaks, cocked hats, and powdered wigs ; 
the " boddies " who kept the adjoining shops eying them 
over their half-closed doors, and humbly watching for a 
nod of recognition from the mighty potentates. Yet 
even the greatest of the tobacco lords only lived in flats, 
entering from a common stair ; and the domestic accom- 
modation was so scanty and so primitive, that visitors 
were of necessity received in the bedrooms. This cir- 
cumstance seems to have hac( some influence in the 
formation of the Clubs, 1 which then formed a curious 
feature of society in most Scotch towns. They consisted 
of knots of men of like tastes and pursuits, who met in 
the evenings at public-houses for purposes of gossip and 
social drinking. There they made new and cultivated 
old acquaintanceships, and exchanged news with each 
other. The Club combined the uses of the newspaper and 
the newsroom, which now accomplish the same objects 
without the drinking. But Glasgow had then no news- 
paper ; and a London news-sheet of a week old was looked 
upon as a novelty. There was no coffee-room nor public 
library in the town ; no theatre 2 nor place of resort open, 
except the " Change-house ;" so that the Club was re- 
garded as a social necessity. The drinking was some- 
times moderate, and sometimes " hard." The better class 
confined themselves to claret and other French wines, 

they amounted to 86,5802. The in- 
crease has been quite as great in 
later years. In point of value of ex- 
ports, Glasgow ranks fourth among 
the ports of the United Kingdom; 
and Greenock now takes precedence 
of Bristol. 

1 For many curious particulars of 
Old Glasgow and its society, see Dr. 
Strang's * Glasgow and its Clubs.' 

2 A temporary wooden theatre was 
run up in 1752, but the religious pre- 
judices of the population were vio- 
lently excited by the circumstance, 
and the place was attacked by a mob 

and seriously damaged. The few 
persons who went there had to be 
protected from insults. In 1762, 
when some persons proposed to build 
a theatre, not a single individual who 
had ground within the burgh would 
grant them a site. Two years later 
the theatre was erected outside the 
precincts, and on the night on which 
it was opened it was wilfully set on 
fire by some persons instigated by the 
preaching of a neighbouring metho- 
dist, when it narrowly escaped de- 

H 2 



>. VI. 

which were then cheap, being free from duty. Those 
disposed to indulge in more frugal fare confined them- 
selves to oat-cake and small-beer. It was not until 
heavy taxes were laid on foreign wines arid malt that 
the hard whisky-drinking of Scotland set in. Whisky 
was introduced from the Highlands shortly after the 
" Forty-five ;" and it soon became the popular drink. 
By 1780 the drinking of raw whisky in Glasgow at mid- 
day had become general. 1 

When young Watt Arrived in Glasgow he carried 
with him but a small quantity of baggage ; the articles 
in his trunk including amongst other things a quadrant, 
probably a specimen of his own handiwork, a leather 
apron, about a score of carpenters' and other tools, and 
" a pair of bibels." On making inquiry for a proper mas- 
ter, under whom to learn the business of mathematical 
instrument making, it was found that there was no 
such person in Glasgow. There was, however, a me- 
chanic in the town, who dignified himself with the name 
of " optician," under whom Watt was placed for a time. 
He was a sort of Jack-of-all-trades, who sold and mended 
spectacles, repaired fiddles, tuned spinets, made and 
repaired the simpler instruments used in mechanical 
drawing, and eked out a slender living by making and 
selling fishing-rods and fishing-tackle. Watt was MS 
handy at dressing trout and salmon flies as at most other 
things, and his master, no doubt, found him useful 
enough ; but there was nothing to be learnt in return for 
his services. Though his master was an ingenious 
workman, in a small way, and could turn his ready hand 

1 When the Lowlanders want to 
drink a cheering cup, they go to the 
public-house, called the Change-house, 
and call for a chopin of twopenny, 
which is their yeasty beverage, made 
of malt, not quite so strong as the 
table-beer of England. . . . . The 
Highlanders, on the contrary, despise 
the liquor, and regale themselves 

with whisky, or malt spirit, as strong 
as Geneva, which they swallow in 
great quantities, without any signs of 
inebriation : they are used to it from 
the cradle, and find it an excellent 
preservative against the winter cold, 
which must be extreme on these 
mountains. Smollett, ' Expedition 
of Humphry Clinker.' 


to anything, it soon became clear to Watt's relations, 
the Muirheads, with whom he lived during his stay, 
that the instructions of such an artist were little likely 
to advance him in mathematical instrument making. 
Among the gentlemen to whom "Watt was introduced 
by his relatives was Dr. Dick, Professor of Natural Phi- 
losophy in Glasgow College, who strongly recommended 
him to proceed to London, and there place himself under 
the instruction of some competent master. Watt con- 
sulted his father on the subject, who readily gave his 
sanction to the proposal ; and, with a letter of introduc- 
tion from Dr. Dick in his pocket, he set out for the great 
city accordingly. 

No stage-coach then ran between Glasgow and Lon- 
don ; so it was determined that young Watt should pro- 
ceed on horseback, then the most convenient and speedy 
mode of travelling. His chest was sent by sea. Old 
Mr. Watt's memorandum-book at Heathfield contains the 
following entry, under date the 6th June, 1755 "*. 

" To send James Watt's chist to the care of Mr. William Oman, 
Ventener in Leith, to be shypt for London to ye care of Captain 
\\illiam Watson, at the Hermitage, London. 

" P d- 3s. Gd. for wagon carage to Edenbrough of chist. 
P d - to son James 21. '2s. 
P d - Plaster and Pomet, Is. 4rf. 
P d 4 doz. pencels, Is. 6tf." 

The "plaster and pomet" may possibly have been pro- 
vided in view of the long journey on horseback and its 
contingencies. Jt was arranged that the youth should 
travel in the company of a relative, Mr. Marr, a sea- 
captain, who was on his way to join his ship, then lying 
in the Thames. They set out on the 7th of June, 
travelling by way of Coldstream and Newcastle, where 
they joined the great north road, then comparatively 
practicable to the south of Durham. They reached 
London safely on the 19th, having been about a fort- 
night on the road. 


Mr. Marr immediately proceeded to make inquiries 
for a mathematical instrument maker with whom to 
place his young friend. But it was found that a serious 
obstacle presented itself in the rules of the trade, which 
prescribed that those employed must either be appren- 
tices serving under a seven years' apprenticeship, or, if 
journeymen, that they should have served for that term. 
Watt, however, had no intention of binding himself to 
serve for so long a period, and he had no pretensions 
to rank as a journeyman. His object was to learn the 
business in the shortest possible time, and then return 
to Glasgow and set up for himself. The two went 
about from shop to shop, but only met with rebuffs. 
" I have not yet got a master," Watt wrote to his father 
about a fortnight after his arrival ; "we have tried 
several, but they all made some objection or other. I 
find that, if any of them agree with me at all, it will 
not be for less than a year ; and even for that time they 
will be expecting some money." 

Mr. Marr continued to exert himself on behalf of the 
youth. Anxious to be employed in any way rather 
than not at all, Watt offered his services gratuitously to 
a watchmaker named Neale, with whom Mr. Marr did 
business, and he was allowed to occupy himself in his 
shop for a time, cutting letters and figures in metal. At 
length a situation of a more permanent character was 
obtained for him ; and he entered the shop of Mr. John 
Morgan, a respectable mathematical instrument maker 
in Cornhill, on the terms of receiving a year's instruc- 
tion in return for a fee of twenty guineas and the pro- 
ceeds of his labour during that time. He soon proved 
himself a ready learner and skilful workman. That 
division of labour, the result of an extensive trade, 
which causes the best London carriages to be superior 
to any of provincial construction, was even then applied 
to mathematical instruments. " Very few here," wrote 
Watt, " know any more than how to make a rule, others 


a pair of dividers, and such like." His first employment 
was in making brass scales, rules, parallels, and the brass- 
work of quadrants ; and by the end of a month he was 
able to finish a Hadley's quadrant in better style than 
any apprentice in the shop. From rule and quadrant 
making he proceeded to azimuth compasses, brass sectors, 
theodolites, and the more delicate kinds of instruments. 
At the end of the year he wrote home to his father that he 
had made " a brass sector with a French joint, which is 
reckoned as nice a piece of framing-work as is in the 
trade ;" and he expressed the hope that he would soon be 
able to work for himself, and earn his bread by his own 

Up to this time he had necessarily been maintained 
by his father, on whom he drew from time to time. 
Mr. Watt's memorandum-books show that on the 27th 
of June he remitted him 10. ; on the 24th of August 
following he enters : " Sent George Anderson by post 
SI. to buy a bill of 7/. or 8/. to send Whey thread and 
Gifferd, and ballance of my son's bill, 21. 2,9. 3d., for which 
ame to remite him more ;" and on the 1 1th September 
following, the balance was forwarded through the same 
channel. On the 24th October, 4. 10s. was in like 
manner sent to George Anderson " on son James's second 
bill ;" and on the 31st December, 10/. was remitted, " to 
be put to the credit of son James's last bill." To relieve 
his father as much as possible for the cost of his main- 
tenance in London, Watt lived in a very frugal style, 
avoiding all unnecessary expenses. His living cost him 
only eight shillings a week ; and he could not reduce it 
below that, he wrote to his father, " without pinching 
his belly." He also sought for some remunerative work 
on his own account ; and when he could obtain it he sat 
up at night to execute it. 

During Watt's stay in London he was in a great 
measure prevented from stirring abroad by the hot press 
for sailors which was then going on. As many as forty 


pressgangs were at work, seizing all able-bodied men 
they could lay hands on. In one night they took not 
fewer than a thousand men. Nor were the kidnappers 
idle. These were the agents of the East India Company, 
who had crimping-houses in different parts of the 
city for receiving the men whom they had seized 
upon for service in the Indian army. Even when the 
demand for soldiers abated, the kidnappers continued 
their trade, and sold their unhappy victims to the 
planters in Pennsylvania and other North American 
colonies. Sometimes severe fights took place between 
the pressgangs and the kidnappers for possession of 
those who had been seized, the law and police being 
apparently powerless to protect them. " They now 
press anybody they can get," Watt wrote in the spring 
of 1756, "landsmen as well as seamen, except it be in 
the liberties of the city, where they are obliged to carry 
them before the Lord Mayor first ; and unless one be 
either a prentice or a creditable tradesman, there is 
scarce any getting off again. And if I was carried 
before my Lord Mayor, I durst not avow that 1 wrought 
in the city, it being against their laws for. any unfree- 
man to work even as a journeyman within the liberties." J 
What a curious glimpse does this give us into the prac- 
tice of man-hunting in London in the eighteenth century ! 
Watt's enforced confinement, together with his se- 
dentary habits and unremitting labour, soon told upon 
his weak frame. When he hurried to his lodgings at 
night, his body was wearied, and his nerves exhausted, 
so that his hands shook like those of an old man ; yet 
he persevered with the extra work which he imposed 
upon himself, in order to earn a little honest money to 
help to pay for his living. His seat in Mr. Morgan's 
shop being placed close to the door, which was often 
opened and shut in the course of the day, he caught 

Letter to his lather quoted in Mini-head's ' Life of Watt,' p. ol). 


a severe cold in the course of the winter ; and he was 
afflicted by a racking cough and severe rheumatic pains, 
from the effects of which he long* continued to suffer. 
Distressed by a gnawing pain in his back, and greatly 
depressed in spirits, he at length, with his father's 
sanction, determined to return to Greenock, to seek 
for renewal of health in his native air. His father made 
him a further remittance to enable him to purchase 
some of the tools required for his trade, together with 
materials for making others, and a copy of Bioii's work 
on the construction and use of Mathematical Instru- 
ments. Having secured these, he set out on his return 
journey for Scotland, and reached Greenock in safety in 
the autumn of 1756. There his health soon became 
sufficiently restored to enable him to return to work; 
and with the concurrence and help of his father, he 
shortly after proceeded to Glasgow, in his twentieth 
year, to begin business on his own account. 

In endeavouring to establish himself in his trade, 
Watt encountered the same obstacle which in London 
had almost prevented his learning it. Although there 
were no mathematical instrument makers in Glasgow, 
and it must have been a public advantage to have so 
skilled a mechanic settled in the place, Watt was opposed 
by the corporation of hammermen on the ground that 
he was neither the son of a burgess nor had served an 
apprenticeship within the borough. 1 Failing in his 
endeavours to open a place of business, he next tried to 
prevail on the corporation to allow him to make use of 
a small workshop wherein to make experiments; but 

1 The following " letter of Guildry " burgh, as they shall think fit, ay and 

while the said unfreemen be put off 

embodied the local regulations which 
existed for the purpose of preventing 
" loss and skaith " to the burgesses 
and craftsmen of Glasgow by the in- 
trusion of " strangers " : " The Dean 
of Guild and his Council shall have 

put off 

the town, and restrained, or else be 
made free with the town and their 
crafts ; and sic like, to pursue, upon 
the judges competent, all persons 
dwelling within this burgh, and usurp- 

full power to discharge, punish, and ing the liberty thereof, obtain dicrets 
unlaw all persons, unfreemen, using against them, and cause the same to 
the liberty of a freeman within the 1 be put to speedy execution." 



this also was peremptorily refused. The hammermen 
were doubtless acting in a very narrow spirit, in thus 
excluding the young mechanic from the privileges of 
citizenship ; but such was the custom of the times, 
those who were within the favoured circles usually 
putting their shoulders together to exclude those who 
were without. Watt had, however, already been em- 
ployed by Dr. Dick, Professor of Natural Philosophy, to 
repair some mathematical instruments which had been 
bequeathed to the University by a gentleman in the West 
Indies ; and the professors, having an absolute authority 
within the area occupied by the college buildings, deter- 
mined to give him an asylum there, and thus free him 
from the incubus of the guilds. 

In the heart of old Glasgow city, not far from the 
cathedral of St. Mungo, which Knox with difficulty pre- 
served from the fury of the Scotch iconoclasts, stands 
the venerable University, a curiously black and sombre 
building, more than 400 years old. Inside the entrance, 
on the right-hand side, is a stone staircase, guarded 
by fabulous beasts in stone. The buildings consist of 
several quadrangles ; but there is not much regularity in 
their design, each part seeming to stand towards the other 






parts, in a state of independent crookedness and irregu- 
larity. There are turrets in the corners of the quad- 
rangles, turrets with peaked tops, like witches' caps. 
In the inner quadrangle, entered from the left-hand side 
of the outer court, a workshop was found for our mecha- 
nician, in which he was securely established by the 
midsummer of 1757. The apartment appropriated to 
Watt by the professors is still to be seen in nearly the 
same rude state in which he left it. It is situated on 
the first floor of the range of building forming the north- 
west side of the inner quadrangle, immediately under 
the gallery of the Natural Philosophy class, with which 
it communicates. It is lighted by three windows, two 
of which open into the quadrangle, and the third, at the 
back, into the Professors' court. There is a small closet 
in the corner of the room, where some students have 
cut their names in the plaster, date "1713." The 
access to the room used to be from the court by a spiral 
stone staircase ; but that entrance is now closed. The 
apartment is only about twenty feet square ; but it served 
Watt, as it has since served others, for high thinking 
and noble working. 1 

In addition to his workshop under the Natural Phi- 
losophy class, a shop for the sale of his instruments was 
also appropriated to Watt by the Professors. It formed 
the ground-floor of the house situated next to the Prin- 
cipal's Gate, being part of the University Buildings, and 
was entered directly from the pavement of the High 
Street. It has been described to us, on the authority of 
Professor Fleming, as an old house, with a sort of arcade 
in front, supported on pillars. In making some altera- 
tions in the building the pillars were too much weakened, 
and the house, excepting the basement, had to be taken 

1 When we visited the room some 
years since, we found laid there the 
galvanic apparatus employed by Pro- 
fessor Thomson for perfecting the 

invention of his delicate process of 
signalling through the wires of the 
Atlantic Telegraph. 




down. The shop occupied by Watt is the little tenement 
shown on the right hand of the following engraving ; 
but the lower story of the building has since been altered 
and repaired, and is now totally different from what it 
was in Watt's time. 


Though his wants were few, and he lived on humble 
fare, Watt found it very difficult to earn a subsistence 
by his trade. His father sent him remittances from 
time to time ; but the old man had suffered serious losses 
in his own business, and had become much less able to 
help his son with money. After a year's trial, Watt wrote 
to his father, that " unless it be the Hadley's instru- 
ments there is little to be got by it, as at most other jobs 
I am obliged to do the most of them myself; and, as 

1 The illustration does not show the 
Inner Quadrangle, situated to the left 
of the Main Court, that part of the 

building having been added since the 
view was published. 




it is impossible tor one person to be expert at every- 
thing, they often cost me more time than they should 
do." Of the quadrants, he could make three in a week, 
with the help of a lad ; but the profit upon the three 
was not more than 40<S'. The customers for these were 
very few in number, as seagoing ships with their cap- 
tains could not yet reach Glasgow. 1 

Failing sufficient customers for his instruments, Watt 
sent those which he had made to Port Glasgow and 
Greenock, where his father helped him to dispose of 
them. He also bethought him of taking a journey to 
Liverpool and London, for the purpose of obtaining 
orders for instruments ; though, for some reason or 
other most probably because he was averse to " push- 
ing," and detested the chaffering of trade his con- 
templated journey was not undertaken. He therefore 
continued to execute only such orders as came to him, 
so that his business remained very small. He began to 
fear that he must give up the trade that would not keep 
him, and he wrote to his father : " If this business does 
not succeed, 1 must fall into some other." To eke out 
his income, he took to map and chart selling, and, 
amongst other things, offered for sale the Map of the 
River Clyde, 2 originally surveyed by his uncle John. 

It is well for the world at large that Watt's maps and 
quadrants remained on his hands unsold. The most 
untoward circumstances in life have often the happiest 

1 The author of ' Glasgow, Past 
and Present ' thus writes : " Last 
week (Nov. 1851) I was crossing the 
ferry at the west end of Tradeston, 
and in the course of our passage over 
we turned round the bow of a large 
ship. The ferryman, looking up to 
her leviathan bulwarks, exclaimed, 
' She came up here yesterday, draw- 
ing eighteen feet water ! ' Now, upon 
this very spot seventy years ago, 
when a very little boy, I waded across 
the river, my feet never being oft' the 
ground, and the water not reaching 
above my arm-pits. The depth at 

that time could not have been much 
more than three feet." 

2 The Glasgow Courant ' of Oct. 
22, 1759, contains the following ad- 
vertisement : 

" Just Published, 
" And to be Sold by James Watt, at his Shop 

in the College ot Glasgow, price Is. (id., 
" A large Sheet Map of the River Clyde, 

from Glasgow to Portincross, from an 

Actual Survev. 

" To which is added, 

" A Draught of Part of the North Channel, 
with the Frith of Clyde according to the 
best authorities." 




results. It is not Fortune that is blind, but man. Had 
his instrument-making business prospered, Watt might 
have become known as a first-class maker of quadrants, 
but not as the inventor of the condensing steam-engine. 
It was because his own special business failed that he 
was driven to betake himself to other pursuits, and 
eventually to prosecute the invention on which his fame 
mainly rests. At first he employed part of his leisure in 
making chemical and other experiments ; but as these 
yielded him no returns in the shape of money, he was 
under the necessity of making some sort of article that 
was in demand, and for which he could find customers. 
Although he had no ear for music, and scarcely knew 
one note from another, he followed the example of the 
old spectacle-maker, his first master, in making fiddles, 
flutes, and guitars, which met with a readier sale than 
his quadrants. These articles were what artists call 
"pot-boilers," and kept him in funds until a main- 
tenance could be earned by higher-class work. We are 
informed, through a lady at Glasgow, that her father 
bought a flute from Watt, who said to him, in selling it : 
" Woe be to ye, Tarn, if you're no guid luck ; for this is 
the first I've sold!" 

His friend Dr. Black, probably to furnish him with 
some profitable employment, asked Watt to make a barrel- 
organ for him, which he at once proceeded to construct. 
Watt was not the man to refuse work of any kind 
requiring the exercise of constructive skill. He first 
carefully studied the principles of harmony, making 
science, in a measure, the substitute for want of ear, 1 
and took for his guide the profound but obscure work on 
6 Harmonics,' published by Dr. R. Smith of Cambridge. 
He next made a model of the instrument ; after which 
he constructed the organ, which, wiien finished, was 
considered a great success. About the same time the 

1 General T. Perronet Thompson 
is another remarkable instance of a 
person without ear for music, who 

has mastered the principles of har- 
mony and applied them in the inven- 
tion of his " Enharmonic Organ." 




office-bearers of a Mason's Lodge in Glasgow sent to ask 
him if he would undertake to build for them a finger- 
organ. As he had sucessfully repaired an instrument 
of the same kind, besides making the barrel-organ, he 
readily accepted the order. Watt was always, as he 
said, dissatisfied with other people's work, as well as 
his own ; and this habit of his mind made him study 
to improve upon whatever came before him. Thus, in 
the process of building this organ, he devised a number 
of novel expedients, such as a sustained monochord, indi- 
cators and regulators of the strength of the blast, means 
of tuning the instrument according to any system of 
temperament, with sundry contrivances for improving 
the efficiency of the stops. The qualities of the organ 
when finished are said to have elicited the surprise and 
admiration of musicians. 1 

The leisure time which Watt did not occupy with 
miscellaneous work of this sort, he spent in reading. He 
did not want for books, as the College library was near 
at hand ; and the professors as well as students were 
willing to lend him from their stores. He was not afraid 
of solid, heavy, dry books, provided he could learn some- 
thing from them. All were alike welcome ; and one of 
his greatest pleasures was in devouring a novel, when it 

1 Watt seems to have made other 
organs besides those above mentioned. 
Not long since a barrel-organ of his 
construction was offered for sale at 
Glasgow. It was originally in the 
form of a table, about three feet square, 
having no appearance of a musical 
instrument externally. At this table, 
when Watt and his friends were 
seated, he would set the concealed 
mechanism in action, and surprise 
them with the production of the 
music. It has since been mounted 
with an organ front and sides, with 
gilt pipes. When in proper tune it 
is of considerable power and pleasing 
harmony ; and continues orthodox in 
its psalm tunes, which range from 
" Martyrs " to the " Old Hundred." A 
correspondent writes as follows : 

" A large organ made and used by 
Watt when he had his shop in 
Glasgow, was disposed of by him, 
when he finally left this city. It 
came into the possession of the late 
Mr. Archibald M'Lellan, coach- 
builder, Miller Street, Glasgow, and 
he had it fitted up in his elegant 
residence in that fine old street. I 
have heard it played by Mr. M'Lellan. 
After his death it was sold, and pur- 
chased by Mr. James G. Adam of the 
Denny print-works. Mr. Adam died, 
and the organ was advertised for sale, 
in 1864, and purchased for 10Z., by 
Adam Sim, Esq., of Coulter Mains, in 
whose possession it now is. Mr. Sim 
has authentic documents to prove that 
this organ was really James Watt's." 



CHAP. A'!. 

fell in his way. He is even said to have occupied him- 
self in writing tales and verses when he had nothing 
else to do. As none of his attempts have been preserved, 
we cannot offer an opinion upon them ; but it is doubtful 
whether Watt's poetry and fiction would display the 
same originality and power of invention as his steam- 
engine. The only youthful exercises of his which have 
been preserved are anything but poetical. One of them, 
at Heathfield, is a 4 Treatise on Practical Megethometry ;' 
and another is a ' Compendium of Definitions,' in Latin, 
by Gerard de Yries, both written in a neat round hand. 

Like most of the Glasgow citizens of that time, Watt 
occasionally visited his club, where he cultivated the 
society of men of greater culture and experience than 
himself. 1 As he afterwards observed to a friend, " Our 
conversations then, besides the usual subjects with young 
men, turned principally on literary topics, religion, 
morality, belles-lettres, &c. ; and to those conversations 
my mind owed its first bias towards such subjects, in 
which they were all much my superiors, I never having 
attended a college, and being then but a mechanic." 

There was another circumstance connected with his 
situation at this time which must have been peculiarly 
agreeable to a young man of his character, aspirations, 
and thirst for knowledge. His shop, being conveniently 
situated within the College, was a favourite resort of 
the professors and the students. They were attracted 
by the ingenious instruments and models which the shop 
contained, and the pleasure always felt in witnessing 
the proceedings of a skilful mechanic at his work, 

1 The club he frequented was 
called the Anderston Club, of which 
Mr. (afterwards Professor) Millar, 
Dr. Robert Simson, the mathema- 
tician, Dr. Adam Smith, Dr. Black, 
and Dr. Cullen, were members. The 
standing dish of the club was hen- 
broth, consisting of a decoction of 
" how-towdies " (fowls), thickened 

with black beans, and seasoned with 
pepper. Dr. Strang says Professor 
Simson was in the habit of counting 
the steps from his house to the club, 
so that he could tell the distance to 
the fraction of an inch. But it is not- 
stated whether he counted the steps 
on his return, and found the number 
of steps the same. 




but more particularly by the easy, unaffected, and ori- 
ginal conversation of Watt himself. Though a com- 
parative youth, the professors were usually glad to 
consult him on points of mechanical knowledge and 
practice ; and the acuteness of his observation, the 
accuracy of his knowledge, and the readiness with 
which he communicated what he knew, soon rendered 
him a general favourite. Among his most frequent 
visitors were Dr. Joseph Black, the distinguished pro- 
fessor of chemistry, who there contracted a friendship 
with Watt which lasted, uninterrupted, for a period of 
forty years, until the Doctor's death ; Professor Sim- 
son, one of the most eminent men of his day, whom 
Lord Brougham has described as the restorer of the 
science of geometry ; Dr. Dick, the Professor of Natural 
Philosophy ; and Professor Anderson. 1 Dr. Moor and 
Dr. Adam Smith were also frequent callers. But of all 
Watt's associates, none is more closely connected with 
his name and history than John Robison, then a student 
at Glasgow College, and afterwards Professor of Natural 
Philosophy at Edinburgh. 

Robison was nearer Watt's age than the rest, and 
stood in the intimate relation to him of bosom friend, 
as well as fellow inquirer in science. He was handsome 
and prepossessing in appearance, frank and lively, full 
of fancy and humour, and a general favourite in the 
College. He was a capital talker, an accomplished 
linguist, and a good musician ; yet, with all his versa- 
tility, he was a profound thinker and a diligent student, 

1 John Anderson was a native of 
Greenock, and an intimate friend of 
James Watt. He was appointed pro- 
fessor of Hebrew in his twenty-seventh 
year, and succeeded Dr. Dick as pro- 
fessor of Natural Philosophy in 1757. 
AVatt spent many of his evenings at 
his residence within the College, and 
had the free use of his excellent pri- 
vate library. Professor Anderson is 
entitled to the honour of being the 

first to open classes for the instruc- 
tion of working men " anti-toga 
classes," as he called them in the 
principles of Natural Philosophy ; 
and at his death he bequeathed his 
property for the purpose of founding 
an institution with the same object. 
The Andersonian University was 
opened in 1796, long before the age 
of Mechanics' Institutes. 


especially in mathematical and mechanical science, as 
he afterwards proved in his elaborate ' System of 
Mechanical Philosophy/ edited by Sir David Brewster, 
and his many able contributions to the ' Encyclopaedia 
Britannica,' of which he was the designer and editor. 

Robison's introduction to Watt has been described 
by himself. After feasting his eyes on the beautifully- 
finished instruments in his shop, Robison entered into 
conversation with him. Expecting to find only a work- 
man, he was surprised to discover a philosopher. " I 
had the vanity," says Robison, " to think myself a pretty 
good proficient in my favourite study (mathematical 
and mechanical philosophy), and was rather mortified 
at finding Mr. Watt so much my superior. But his 
own high relish for these things made him pleased 
with the chat of any person who had the same tastes 
with himself; and his innate complaisance made him 
indulge my curiosity, and even encourage my en- 
deavours to form a more intimate acquaintance with 
him. I lounged much about him, and, I doubt not, 
was frequently teasing him. Thus our acquaintance 

In Watt's workshop also, Robison first met Dr. Black, 
and there initiated a friendship which ended only with 
death. " My first acquaintance with him," Robison 
afterwards wrote Watt, " began in your rooms when 
you were rubbing up Macfarlane's instruments. He 
used to come in, and, standing with his back to us, 
amuse himself with Bird's quadrant, whistling softly to 
himself, in a manner that thrilled me to the heart." 

In 1757 Robison applied for the office of assistant to 
Dr. Dick, Professor of Natural Philosophy, in the 
place of the son of that gentleman, who had just died ; 
but though he had already taken the degree of Master 
of Arts, he was thought too young to hold so important 
an office, being only about nineteen years old. His 
friends wished him to study for the church ; but, pre- 


ferring some occupation in which his mechanical tastes 
might be indulged, he turned his eyes to London. Fur- 
nished with letters from Professor Dick and Dr. Simson, 
he obtained an introduction to Admiral Knowles, who 
engaged him to take charge of his son's instruction 
while at sea. In that capacity he sailed from Spithead 
in 1759, with the fleet which assisted the land forces in 
the taking of Quebec ; he and his pupil being rated as 
midshipmen in the Admiral's ship. Eobison was on 
duty in the boat which carried Wolfe to the point 
where the army scaled the heights of Montcalm the 
night before the battle ; and as the sun was setting in 
the west, the General, doubtless from an association of 
ideas suggested by the dangers of the coming struggle, 
recited, in an under tone, Gray's ' Elegy on a Country 
Churchyard ; ' and when he had finished, said, " Now, 
gentlemen, I would rather have been the author of that 
poem than take Quebec." 

When Robison returned from his voyagings in 1763, 
a travelled man, having had the advantage, during 
his absence, of acting as confidential assistant of Admiral 
Knowles in his marine surveys and observations, he 
reckoned himself more than on a par with Watt ; but 
he soon found that, during the period of his absence 
from Glasgow, his friend had been even busier than him- 
self. When they entered into conversation, he found 
Watt continually striking into new paths where he was 
obliged to be his follower. The extent of the mathe- 
matical instrument maker's investigations was no less 
remarkable than the depth to which he had pursued 
them. Not only had he mastered the principles of 
engineering, civil and military, but diverged into 
studies in antiquity, natural history, languages, criti- 
cism, and art. Every pursuit became science in his 
hands, and he made use of his subsidiary knowledge 
for the purpose of helping him towards his favourite 


Before long, Watt became to be regarded as one of 
the ablest men about college. u When to the supe- 
riority of knowledge in his own line," said Robison, 
" which every man confessed, there was joined the 
iia'ive simplicity and candour of his character, it is 
no wonder that the attachment of his acquaintances 
was so strong. I have seen something of the world," 
he continued, " and I am obliged to say that I never 
saw such another instance of general and cordial 
attachment to a person whom all acknowledged to 
be their superior. But this superiority was concealed 
under the most amiable candour, and liberal allowance 
of merit to every man. Mr. Watt was the first to 
ascribe to the ingenuity of a friend things which 
were very often nothing but his own surmises followed 
out and embodied by another. I am well entitled 
to say this, and have often experienced it in my 
own case." 

There are few traits in biography more charming 
than this generous recognition of merit mutually 
attributed by the one friend to the other. Arago, 
in quoting the words of Robison, has well observed that 
it is difficult to determine whether the honour of having 
thus recorded them be not as great as that of having 
inspired them. 


PROFESSOR ROBISON. Mt. 60. [By T. D Scott, after Raeburn.] 




IT was in the year 1759 that Robison first called the 
attention of his friend Watt to the subject of the steam- 
engine. Robison was then only in his twentieth, and 
Watt in his twenty-third year. Robison's idea was 
that the power of steam might be advantageously 
applied to the driving of wheel-carriages, and he sug- 
gested that it would be the most convenient for the 
purpose to place the cylinder with its open end down- 
wards to avoid the necessity of using a working beam. 
Watt admits that he was very ignorant of the steam- 
engine at the time ; nevertheless, he began making a 
model with two cylinders of tinplate, intending that 
the pistons and their connecting-rods should act 
alternately on two pinions attached to the axles of the 
carriage-wheels. But the model, being slightly and in- 
accurately made, did not answer his expectations. Other 
difficulties presented themselves, and the scheme was 
laid aside on Robison leaving Glasgow to go to sea. 
Indeed, mechanical science was not yet ripe for the 
locomotive. Robison's idea had, however, dropped 
silently into the mind of his friend, where it grew from 
day to day, slowly and at length fruitfully. 

At his intervals of leisure and in the quiet of his 
evenings, Watt continued to prosecute his various 
studies. He was shortly attracted by the science of 
chemistry, then in its infancy. Dr. Black was at that 
time occupied with the investigations which led to his 
discovery of the theory of latent heat, and it is probable 




that his familiar conversations with Watt on the sub- 
ject induced the latter to enter upon a series of experi- 
ments with the view of giving the theory some practical 
direction. His attention again and again reverted to 
the steam-engine, though he had not yet seen even a 
model of one. Steam was as yet almost unknown in 
Scotland as a working power. The first engine was 
erected at Elphinstone Colliery, in Stirlingshire, about 
the year 1750 ; and the second more than ten years 
later, at Grovan Colliery, near Glasgow, where it was 
known by the startling name of "The Firework." 
This had not, however, been set up at the time Watt 
began to inquire into the subject. But he found that 
the College possessed the model of a Newcomen engine 
for the use of the Natural^ Philosophy class, which had 
been sent to London for repair. On hearing of its 
existence, he suggested to his friend Dr. Anderson, Pro- 
fessor of Natural Philosophy, the propriety of getting 
back the model ; and a sum of money was placed by 
the Senatus at the Professor's disposal " to recover the 
steam-engine from Mr. Sisson, instrument maker, in 

In the mean time Watt sought to learn all that had 
been written on the subject of the steam-engine. He 
ascertained from Desaguliers, from Switzer, and other 
writers, what had been accomplished by Savery, 
Newcomen, Beighton, and others : and he went on 
with his own independent experiments. His first 
apparatus was of the simplest possible kind. He used 
common apothecaries phials for his steam reservoirs, 
and canes hollowed out for his steam pipes. 1 In 1761 

1 At a meeting held in Glasgow in 
1839 to erect a monument to Watt, 
Dr. Ure observed : "As to the 
latent heat of steam," said Mr. Watt 
to me, " it was a piece of knowledge 
essential to my inquiries, and I 
worked it out myself in the best way 
that I could. I used apothecaries' 

phials for my apparatus, and by 
means of them I got approximations 
sufficient for my purpose at the 
time." The passage affords a striking 
illustration of the large results that 
may be arrived at by means of the 
humblest instruments. In like manner 
Cavendish, when asked by a foreigner 





he proceeded to experiment on the force of steam by 
of a small Papin's digester and a syringe. 
The syringe was only the third of an inch 
in diameter, fitted with a solid piston ; 
and it was connected with the digester 
by a pipe furnished with a stopcock, by 
which the steam was admitted or shut off 
at will. It was also itself provided with 
a stopcock, enabling a communication to 
be opened between the syringe and the 
outer air to permit the steam in the 
syringe to escape. The apparatus, though 
rude, enabled the experimenter to ascer- 
tain some important facts. When the steam in the 
digester was raised and the cock turned, enabling it to 
rush against the lower side of the piston, he found 
that the expansive force of the steam raised a weight of 
fifteen pounds with which the piston was loaded. Then, 
on turning the cock and shutting off the connexion with 
the digester at the same time that a passage was opened 
to the air, the steam was allowed to escape, when the 
weight upon the piston, being no longer counteracted, 
immediately forced it to descend. 

Watt saw that it would be easy to contrive that the 
cocks should be turned by the machinery itself instead of 
by the hand, and the whole be made to work by itself 
with perfect regularity. But there was an objection to 
this method. Water is converted into vapour as soon 
as its elasticity is sufficient to overcome the weight of 
the air which keeps it down. Under the ordinary 
pressure of the atmosphere water acquires this necessary 
elasticity at 212; but as the steam in the digester was 
prevented from escaping, it acquired increased heat, and 
by consequence increased elasticity. Hence it was that 

to be shown over his laboratories, 
pointed to an old tea-tray on the 
table, containing a few watch-glasses, 

test papers, a balance, and a blow- 
pipe, and observed, " There is all the 
laboratory 1 possess." 




the steam which issued from the digester was not only 
able to support the piston and the air which pressed 
upon its upper surface, but the additional load with 
which the piston was weighted. With the imperfect 
mechanical construction, however, of those days, there 
was a risk lest the boiler should be burst by the steam, 
which was apt to force its way through the ill-made 
joints of the machine. This, conjoined with the great 
expenditure of steam on the high-pressure system, led 
Watt to abandon the plan ; and the exigencies of 
his business for a time prevented him pursuing his 
experiments. Watt's own account of his early experi- 
ments will be found appended as notes to Brewster's 
edition of the articles ' Steam and Steam-engines,' 
written by Dr. Eobison for the ' Encyclopaedia Britan- 
nica,' and afterwards published in a separate form. 

At length the New- 
comen model arrived 
from London ; and, in 
1763, the little engine, 
which was destined to 
become so famous, was 
put into the hands of 
Watt. The boiler was 
somewhat smaller than 
an ordinary tea-kettle. 
The cylinder of the en- 
gine was only of two 
inches diameter and six 
inches stroke. Watt at 
first regarded it as 
merely " a fine play- 
thing." It was, how- 
ever, enough to set him 
upon a track of think- 
ing which led to the most important results. When 
he had repaired the model and set it to work, he 



found that the boiler, though apparently large enough, 
could not supply steam in sufficient quantity, and only 
a few strokes of the piston could be obtained, when the 
engine stopped. The fire was urged by blowing, and 
more steam was produced, but still it would not work 
properly. Exactly at the point at which another man 
would have abandoned the task in despair, the mind of 
Watt became thoroughly roused. " Everything," says 
Professor Robison, " was to him the beginning of a new 
and serious study ; and I knew that he would not quit 
it till he had either discovered its insignificance, or had 
made something of it." Thus it happened with the 
phenomena presented by the model of the steam-engine. 
Watt referred to his books, and endeavoured to ascertain 
from them by what means he might remedy the defects 
which he found in the model ; but they could tell him 
nothing. He then proceeded with an independent 
course of experiments, resolved to work out the problem 
for himself. In the course of his inquiries he came 
upon a fact which, more than any other, led his mind 
into the train of thought which at last conducted him to 
the invention of which the results were destined to prove 
so stupendous. This fact was the existence of Latent Heat. 
In order to follow the track of investigation pursued 
by Watt, it is necessary for a moment to revert to the 
action of the Newcomen pumping-engine. A beam, 
moving upon a centre, had affixed to one end of it a 
chain attached to the piston of the pump, and at the 
other a chain attached to a piston that fitted into the 
steam cylinder. It was by driving this latter piston up 
and down the cylinder that the pump was worked. To 
communicate the necessary movement to the piston, the 
steam generated in a boiler was admitted to the bottom 
of the cylinder, forcing out the air through a valve, 
when its pressure on the under side of the piston coun- 
terbalanced the pressure of the atmosphere on its upper 
side. The piston, thus placed between two equal forces, 


was drawn up to the top of the cylinder by the greater 
weight of the pump-gear at the opposite extremity of 
the beam. The steam, so far, only discharged the office 
which was performed by the air it displaced ; but, if 
the air had been allowed to remain, the piston once at 
the top of the cylinder could not have returned, being 
pressed as much by the atmosphere underneath as by 
the atmosphere above it. The steam, on the contrary, 
which was admitted by the exclusion of the air, could be 
condensed, and a vacuum created, by injecting cold water 
through the bottom of the cylinder. The piston being 
now unsupported, was forced down by the pressure of 
the atmosphere on its upper surface. When the piston 
reached the bottom, the steam was again let in, and the 
process was repeated. Such was the engine in ordinary 
use for pumping water at the time that Watt begun his 

Among his other experiments, he constructed a boiler 
which showed by inspection the quantity of water eva- 
porated in any given time, and the quantity of steam 
used in every stroke of the engine. He was astonished 
to discover that a small quantity of water in the form of 
steam, heated a large quantity of cold water injected 
into the cylinder for the purpose of cooling it; and 
upon further examination he ascertained that steam 
heated six times its weight of cold water to 212, which 
was the temperature of the steam itself. " Being struck 
with this remarkable fact," says Watt, " and not under- 
standing the reason of it, I mentioned it to my friend 
Dr. Black, who then explained to me his doctrine of 
latent heat, which he had taught for some time before 
this period (the summer of 1764); but having myself 
been occupied by the pursuits of business, if I had heard 
of it I had not attended to it, when I thus stumbled 
upon one of the material facts by which that beautiful 
theory is supported." ] 

1 Watt's notes to Eobison's Articles on * Steam and Steam-ensjines.' 


When Watt found that water, in its conversion into 
vapour, became such a reservoir of heat, he was more 
than ever bent on economising it ; for the great waste 
of heat involving so heavy a consumption of fuel, was 
felt to be the principal obstacle to the extended employ- 
ment of steam as a motive power. He accordingly 
endeavoured, with the same quantity of fuel, at once 
to increase the production of steam, and to diminish its 
waste. He increased the heating surface of the boiler, 
by making flues through it ; he even made his boiler 
of wood, as being a worse conductor of heat than 
the brickwork which surrounds common furnaces ; and 
he cased the cylinders and all the conducting -pipes 
in materials which conducted heat very slowly. But 
none of these contrivances were effectual ; for it turned 
out that the chief expenditure of steam, and conse- 
quently of fuel, in the Newcomen engine, was occa- 
sioned by the reheating of the cylinder after the steam 
had been condensed, and the cylinder was consequently 
cooled by the injection into it of the cold water. 
Nearly four-fifths of the whole steam employed was 
condensed on its first admission, before the surplus 
could act upon the piston. Watt therefore came to the 
conclusion, that to make a perfect steam-engine, it was 
necessary that the cylinder should be always as hot as the 
steam that entered it ; but it was equally necessary that 
the steam should be condensed when the piston de- 
scended, nay, that it should be cooled down below 
100, or a considerable amount of vapour would be 
given off, which would resist the descent of the piston, 
and diminish the power of the engine. Thus the 
cylinder was never to be at a less temperature than 
212, and yet at each descent of the piston it was to be 
less than 100; conditions which, on the very face of 
them, seemed to be wholly incompatible. 

We revert for a moment to the progress of Watt's 
instrument-making business. The shop in the College 


was not found to answer, being too far from the prin- 
cipal thoroughfares. If he wanted business he must go 
nearer to the public, for it was evident that they would 
not come to him. But to remove to a larger shop, in a 
more central quarter, involved an expenditure of capital 
for which he was himself unequal. His father had 
helped him with money as long as he could, but could 
do so no longer. Though he was as much respected 
by his neighbours as ever, he had grown poor by his 
losses ; and, instead of giving help, himself needed it. 
Watt therefore looked about him for a partner with 
means, and succeeded in finding one in a Mr. John 
Craig, in conjunction with whom he opened a retail 
shop in the Salt-market, nearly opposite St. Andrew's 
Street, about the year 1760; removing from thence to 
Buchanan's Land, on the north side of the Trongate, 
a few years later. 1 Watt's partner was not a mechanic, 
but he supplied the requisite capital, and attended to 
the books. The partnership was on the whole success- 
ful, as we infer from the increased number of hands 
employed. At first Watt could execute all his orders 
himself, and afterwards by the help of a man and a 
boy; but by the end of 1764, the number of hands 
employed by the firm had increased to sixteen. 

His improving business brought with it an im- 
proving income, and Watt always a frugal and thrifty 
man began to save a little money. He was encouraged 
to economise by another circumstance his intended 
marriage with his cousin, Margaret Miller. In antici- 
pation of this event, he had removed from his rooms 
in the College to a house in Delftfield Lane a narrow 
passage then parallel with York Street, but now con- 
verted into the spacious thoroughfare of W T att Street. 

1 The following advertisement in I the Saltmercat to Mr. Buchanan's land in the 
the 'Glasgow Journal 'of the 1st Dec., I Trongate, where he sells all sorts of M.i- 
1763, fixes the date of this last re- thematical and Musical Instruments, with 
nioval : variety of toys, and other goods." 

' James Watt has removed his shop from ; 





Having furnished his house in a plain yet comfortable 
style, he brought home his young wife, and installed her 
there in July, 1764. The step was one of much im- 
portance to his personal wellbeing. Mrs. Watt was of a 
lively, cheerful temperament ; and as Watt himself was of 
a meditative disposition, prone to melancholy, and a fre- 
quent sufferer from nervous headache, her presence at 
his fireside could not fail to have a beneficial influence 
upon his health and comfort. 

Watt continued to pursue his studies as before. 
Though still occupied with his inquiries and experi- 
ments as to steam, he did not neglect his proper busi- 
ness, but was constantly on the look-out for improve- 
ments in instrument making. A machine which he 
invented for drawing in perspective proved a success ; 
and he made a considerable number of them to order, 
for customers in London as well as abroad. He was 
also an indefatigable reader, and continued to extend 


his knowledge of chemistry and mechanics by perusal 
of the best books on these sciences. 

Above all other subjects, however, the improvement 
of the steam-engine continued to keep the fastest hold 
upon his mind. He still brooded over his experiments 
with the Newcomen model, but did not seem to make 
much way in introducing any practical improvement in 
its mode of working. His friend Eobison says he 
struggled long to condense with sufficient rapidity 
without injection, trying one expedient after another, 
finding out what would do by what would not do, and 
exhibiting many beautiful specimens of ingenuity and 
fertility of resource. He continued, to use his own 
words, " to grope in the dark, misled by many an ignis 
fatuus" It was a favourite saying of his, that " Nature 
has a weak side, if we can only find it out ;" and he 
went on groping and feeling for it, but as yet in vain. 
At length light burst upon him, and all at once the 
problem over which he had been brooding was solved. 

One Sunday afternoon, in the spring of 1765, he 
went to take an afternoon walk on the Green, then a 
quiet, grassy meadow, used as a bleaching and grazing- 
ground. On week-days the Glasgow lasses came thither 
with their largest kail-pots, to boil their clothes in ; 
and sturdy queans might be seen, with coats kilted, 
tramping blankets in their tubs. On Sundays the place 
was comparatively deserted, and hence Watt, who lived 
close at hand, went there to take a quiet afternoon 
stroll. His thoughts were as usual running on the sub- 
ject of his unsatisfactory experiments with the Newco- 
men engine, when the first idea of the separate condenser 
suddenly flashed upon his mind. But the notable dis- 
covery is best told in his own words, as related to Mr. 
Robert Hart, many years after : 

" I had gone to take a walk on a fine Sabbath after- 
noon. I had entered the Green by the gate at the foot 
of Charlotte Street, and had passed the old washing- 



house. I was thinking upon the engine at the time, 
and had gone as far as the herd's house, when the idea 
came into my mind that as steam was an elastic hody it 
would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were 
made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel, it 
would rush into it, and might be there condensed with- 
out cooling the cylinder. I then saw that I must get 
rid of the condensed steam and injection- water if I used 
a jet, as in Newcomen's engine. Two ways of doing 
this occurred to me. First, the water might be run off 
by a descending pipe, if an off-let could be got at the 
depth of 35 or 36 feet, and any air might be extracted 
by a small pump. The second was to make the pump 
large enough to extract both water and air. He con- 
tinued : I had not walked further than the Golf-house 1 
when the whole thing was arranged in my mind." 2 

x Great and prolific ideas are almost always simple. 
What seems impossible at the outset appears so obvious 
when it is effected that we are prone to marvel that it 
did not force itself at once upon the mind. Late in life 
Watt, with his accustomed modesty, declared his belief 
that if he had excelled, it had been by chance and the 
neglect of others." To Professor Jardine he said " that 
when it was analysed the invention would not appear so 
great as it seemed to be. In the state," said he, " in 
which I found the steam-engine, it was no great effort 
of mind to observe that the quantity of fuel necessary to 
make it work would for ever prevent its extensive 
utility. The next step in my progress was equally easy 

to inquire what was the cause of the great consump- 
tion of fuel : this, too, was readily suggested, viz., the 
waste of fuel which was necessary to bring the whole 
cylinder, piston, and adjacent parts from the coldness of 
water to the heat of steam, no fewer than from fifteen 

1 About the site of the Humane 
Society's House. 

2 Mr. Robert Hart's ' Reminiscences 

of James Watt,' in ' Transactions of 
the Glasgow Archaeological Society, 




to twenty times in a minute." The question then 
occurred, how was this to be avoided or remedied ? 
It was at this stage that the idea of carrying on the 
condensation in a separate vessel flashed upon his .mind, 
and solved the difficulty. 1 

Mankind has been more just to Watt than he was to 
himself. There was no accident in the discovery. It 
had been the result of close and continuous study ; and 
the idea of the separate condenser was merely the last 
step of a long journey a step which could not have 
been taken unless the road which led to it had been 
traversed. Dr. Black says, " This capital improvement 
flashed upon his mind at once, and filled him with 
rapture ; " a statement which, spite of the unimpassioned 
nature of Watt, we can readily believe. 

On the morning following his Sunday afternoon's 
walk on Glasgow Green, Watt was up betimes making 
arrangements for a speedy trial of his new plan. He 
borrowed from a college friend a large brass syringe, an 
inch and a third in diameter, and ten inches long, 
of the kind used by anatomists for injecting arteries 
with wax previous to dissection. The body of the 
syringe served for a cylinder, the piston-rod passing 
through a collar of leather in its cover. A pipe con- 
nected with the boiler was inserted at both ends for the 
admission of steam, and at the upper end was another 
pipe to convey the steam to the condenser. The axis of 
the stem of the piston was drilled with a hole, fitted 
with a valve at its lower end, to permit the water 

1 " The last step of all," says Pro- 
fessor Jardine, " was more difficult 
the forming of the separate condensing 
vessel. The great knowledge he had 
acquired of the mechanical powers 
enabled him to construct it, but I have 
often heard him say this was a work 
of great difficulty, and that he met 
with many disappointments before he 
succeeded. I have often made use of 
this beautiful analysis received from 

Mr. Watt, in another department in 
which I have been long engaged, to 
illustrate and encourage the progress of 
genius in youth, to show, that once in 
possession of a habit of attention, under 
proper direction, it may be carried from 
one easy step to another, till the mind 
becomes qualified and invigorated for 
uniting and concentrating effort the 
highest exertion of genius." 





produced by the condensed steam on first filling the 
cylinder to escape. The first condenser made use of 
was an improvised cistern of tinned plate, provided 
with a pump to get rid of the water formed by the 
condensation of the steam, both the condensing-pipes 
and the air-pump being placed in a reservoir of cold 

" The steam-pipe," says Watt, " was adjusted to a small boiler. 
When steam was produced, it was admitted into the cylinder, and 

soon issued through the perforation of the 
rod, and at the valve of the condenser ; 
when it was judged that the air was ex- 
pelled, the steam-cock was shut, and the 
air-pump piston-rod was drawn up, which 
leaving the small pipes of the condenser 
in a state of vacuum, the steam entered 
them and was condensed. The piston of 
the cylinder immediately rose and lifted 
a weight of about 18 Ibs., which was 
hung to the lower end of the piston-rod. 
The exhaustion-cock was shut, the steam 
was readmitted into the cylinder, and the 
operation was repeated. The quantity of 
steam consumed and the weights it could 
raise were observed, and, excepting the non-application of the steam- 
case and external covering, the invention was complete, in so far as 
regarded the savings of steam and fuel." 

But, although the invention was complete in Watt's 
mind, it took him many long and laborious years to 
work out the details of the engine. His friend Eobison, 
with whom his intimacy was maintained during these 
interesting experiments, has given a graphic account of 
the difficulties which he successively encountered and 
overcame. He relates that on his return from the 
country, after the College vacation in 1765, he went to 
have a chat with Watt and communicate to him some 
observations he had made on Desaguliers' and Belidor's 
account of the steam-engine. He went straight into 
the parlour, without ceremony, and found Watt sitting 
before the fire looking at a little tin cistern which he 



had 011 his knee. Robison immediately started the 
conversation about steam, his mind, like Watt's, being 
occupied with the means of avoiding the excessive 
waste of heat in the Newcomen engine. Watt, all the 
while, kept looking into the fire, and after a time laid 
down the cistern at the foot of his chair, saying nothing. 
It seems that Watt felt rather nettled at Robison 
having communicated to a mechanic of the town a 
contrivance which he had hit upon for turning the 
cocks of his engine. When Robison therefore pressed 
his inquiry, Watt at length looked at him and said 
briskly, " You need not fash yourself any more about 
that, man ; I have now made an engine that shall 
not waste a particle of steam. It shall all be boiling 
hot, ay, and hot water injected, if I please." He 
then pushed the little tin cistern with his foot under 
the table. 

Robison could learn no more of the new contrivance 
from Watt at that time ; but on the same evening he 
accidentally met a mutual acquaintance, who, supposing 
he knew as usual the progress of Watt's experiments, 
observed to him, " Well, have you seen Jamie Watt ? " 
" Yes." " He'll be in fine spirits now with his engine ?" 
" Yes," said Robisoii, " very fine spirits." " Gad ! " 
said the other, " the separate condenser's the thing : 
keep it but cold enough, and you may have a perfect 
vacuum, whatever be the heat of the cylinder." This 
was Watt's secret, and the nature of the contrivance 
was clear to Robison at once. 

It will be observed that AVatt had not made a secret 
of it to his other friends. Indeed Robison himself 
admitted that one of Watt's greatest delights was to 
communicate the results of his experiments to others, 
and set them upon the same road to knowledge* with 
himself; and that no one could display less of the small 
jealousy of the tradesman than he did. To his intimate 
friend, Dr. Black, he communicated the progress made 

K 2 





by* him at every stage ; and the Doctor kindly 
encouraged him in his struggles, cheered him in 
his encounter with difficulty, and, what was of still 
more practical value at the time, he helped him with 
money to enable him to prosecute his invention. 
Communicative though Watt was disposed to be, 
he learnt reticence when he found himself exposed 
to the depredations of the smaller fry of inventors. 
Robison says that had he lived in Birmingham or 
London at the time, the probability is that some one 
or other of the numerous harpies who live by sucking 
other people's brains, would have secured patents for 


his more important inventions, and thereby deprived 
him of the benefits of his skill, science, and labour. 
As yet, however, there were but few mechanics in 
Glasgow capable of understanding or appreciating the 
steam-engine ; and the intimate friends to whom he 
freely spoke of his discovery were too honourable- 
minded to take advantage of his confidence. Shortly 
after, Watt fully communicated to Eobison the different 
stages of his invention, and the results at which he had 
arrived, much to the delight of his friend. 

It will be remembered that in the Newcomen engine 
the steam was only employed for the purpose of 
producing a vacuum, and that its working power was 
in the down stroke, which was effected by the pressure 
of the air upon the piston ; hence it is now usual to 
call it the atmospheric engine. Watt perceived that 
the air which followed the piston down the cylinder 
w T ould cool the latter, and that steam would be wasted 
in re-heating it. In order, therefore, to avoid this 
loss of heat, he resolved to put an air-tight cover upon 
the cylinder, with a hole and stuffing-box for the piston- 
rod to slide through, and to admit steam above the 
piston, to act upon it instead of the atmosphere. When 
the steam had done its duty in driving down the piston, 
a communication was opened between the upper and 
lower part of the cylinder, and the same steam, dis- 
tributing itself equally in both compartments, sufficed 
to restore equilibrium. The piston was now drawn up 
by the weight of the pump-gear; the steam beneath 
it was then condensed in the separate vessel so as to 
produce a vacuum, and a fresh jet of steam from the 
boiler was let in above the piston, which forced it again 
to the bottom of the cylinder. From an atmospheric it 
had thus become a true steam-engine, and with a much 
greater economy of steam than when the air did half the 
duty. But it was not only important to keep the air 
from flowing down the inside of the cylinder : the 


air which circulated within cooled the metal and con- 
densed a- portion of the steam within ; and this Watt 
proposed to remedy by a second cylinder, surrounding 
the first with an interval between the two which was to 
be kept full of steam. 

One by one these various contrivances were struck 
out, modified, settled, and reduced to definite plans; 
the separate condenser, the air and water pumps, the 
use of fat and oil (instead of water as in the Newcornen 
engine) to keep the piston working in the cylinder 
air-tight, and the enclosing of the cylinder itself within 
another to prevent the loss of heat. They were all but 
emanations from the first idea of inventing an engine 
working by a piston, in which the cylinder should 
be kept continually hot and perfectly dry. " When 
once," says Watt, "the idea of separate condensation 
was started, all these improvements followed as corollaries 
in quick succession ; so that in the course of one or 
two days the invention was thus far complete in my 

The next step was to construct a model engine for 
the purpose of embodying the invention in a working 
form. With this object Watt hired an old cellar, 
situated in the first wide entry to the north of the 
beef-market in King Street, and there proceeded with 
his model. He found it much easier, however, to pre- 
pare his plan than to execute it. Like most ingenious 
and inventive men, Watt was extremely fastidious; 
and this occasioned considerable delay in the execution 
of the work. His very inventiveness to some extent 
proved a hinderance ; for new expedients were per- 
petually occurring to him, which he thought would be 
improvements, and which he, by turns, endeavoured 
to introduce. Some of these expedients he admits 
proved fruitless, and all of them occasioned delay. 
Another of his chief difficulties was in finding com- 
petent workmen to execute his plans. He himself had 
been accustomed only to small metal work, with com- 




paratively delicate tools, and had very little experience 
" in the practice of mechanics in great" as he termed it. 
He was therefore under the necessity of depending-, 
in a great measure, upon the handiwork of others. 
But mechanics capable of working out Watt's designs 
in metal were then with difficulty to be found. The 
beautiful self-acting tools and workmanship which have 
since been called into being, principally by his own 
invention, did not then exist. The only available hands 
in Glasgow were the blacksmiths and tinners, little 
capable of constructing articles out of their ordinary 
walks ; and even in these they were often found clumsy, 
blundering, and incompetent. The result was, that in 
consequence of the malconstruction of the larger parts, 
Watt's first model was only partially successful. The 
experiments made with it, however, served to verify 
the expectations he had formed, and to place the advan- 
tages of the invention beyond the reach of doubt. On 
the exhausting-cock being turned, the piston, when 
loaded with 18 Ibs., ascended as quick as the blow of a 
hammer ; and the moment the steam-cock was opened, 
it descended with like rapidity, though the steam was 
weak, and the machine snifted at many openings. 

Satisfied that he had laid hold of the right principle 
of a working steam-engine, Watt felt impelled to follow 
it to an issue. He could give his mind to no other 
business in peace until this was done. He wrote to a 
friend that he was quite barren on every other subject. 
" My whole thoughts," said he, " are bent on this 
machine. I can think of nothing else." l He proceeded 

1 " I have now (April, 1765) almost 
a certainty of ihefactitrum of the fire- 
engine, having determined the follow- 
ing particulars : The quantity of steam 
produced ; the ultimatum of the lever 
engine ; the quantity of steam de- 
stroyed by the cold of its cylinder; 
the quantity destroyed in mine ; and 
if there be not some devil in the hedge, 
mine ought to raise wjiter to 44 feet 
with the same quantity of steam that 

theirs does to 32 (supposing my 
cylinder as thick as theirs), which I 
think I can demonstrate.. I can now 
make a cylinder 2 feet diameter and 
3 feet high, only a 40th of an inch 
thick, and strong enough to resist the 
atmosphere ; sed face. In short, I 
can think of nothing else but this 
machine." Watt to Dr. Lind, quoted 
in Muirhead's ' Life of Watt,' 94-5. 



to make another and bigger, and, he hoped, a more 
satisfactory engine, in the following August ; and with 
that object he removed from the old cellar in King- 
street to a larger apartment in the then disused pottery 
or delftwork near the Broomielaw. There he shut 
himself up with his assistant, John Gardiner, for the 
purpose of erecting his engine. The cylinder was five 
or six inches in diameter, with a two-feet stroke. The 
inner cylinder was enclosed in a wooden steam-case, and 
placed inverted, the piston working through a hole in the 
bottom of the steam-case. After two months* continuous 
application and labour it was finished and set to work ; 
but it leaked in all directions, and the piston was far 
from air-tight. The condenser also was in a bad way, 
and needed many alterations. Nevertheless, the engine 
readily worked with 10 i Ibs. pressure on the inch, and 
the piston lifted a weight of 14 Ibs. The 'improvement 
of the cylinder and piston continued Watt's chief diffi- 
culty, and taxed his ingenuity to the utmost. At so low 
an ebb was the art of making cylinders that the one he 
used was not bored but hammered, the collective me- 
chanical skill of Glasgow being then unequal to the 
boring of a cylinder of the simplest kind ; nor, indeed, 
did the necessary appliances for the purpose then exist 
anywhere else. In the Newcomen engine a little water 
was poured upon the upper surface of the piston, and suffi- 
ciently filled up the interstices between the piston and the 
cylinder. But when Watt employed steam to drive down 
the piston, he was deprived of this resource, for the 
water and the steam could not coexist. Even if he had 
retained the agency of the air above, the drip of water 
from the crevices into the lower part of the cylinder 
would have been incompatible with keeping the surface 
hot and dry, and, by turning into vapour as it fell upon 
the heated metal, it would have impaired the vacuum 
during the descent of the piston. 

While he was occupied with this difficulty, and striving 


to overcome it by the adoption of new expedients, such as 
leather collars and improved workmanship, he wrote to a 
friend, " My old white-iron man is dead ;" the old white- 
iron man, or tinner, being his leading mechanic. Unhap- 
pily, also, just as he seemed to have got the engine into 
working order, the beam broke, and having great diffi- 
culty in replacing the damaged part, the accident threat- 
ened, together with the loss of his best workman, to bring 
the experiment to an end. But though discouraged by 
these misadventures, he was far from defeated, but went 
on as before, battling down difficulty inch by inch, and 
holding good the ground he had won, becoming every 
day more strongly convinced that he was in the right 
track, and that the important uses of the invention, 
could he but find time and means to perfect it, were 
beyond the reach of doubt. 

But how to find the means ! Watt himself was a 
comparatively poor man ; having no money but what 
he earned by his business of mechanical instrument 
making, which he had for some time been neglect- 
ing through his devotion to the construction of his 
engine. What he wanted was capital, or the help of 
a capitalist willing to advance him the necessary funds 
to perfect his invention. To give a fair trial to the 
new apparatus would involve an expenditure of several 
thousand pounds; and who on the spot could be ex- 
pected to invest so large a sum in trying a machine so 
entirely new, depending for its success on physical prin- 
ciples very imperfectly understood ? 

There was no such help to be found in Glasgow. 
The tobacco lords, though rich, took no interest in steam 
power, and the manufacturing class, though growing in 
importance, had full employment for their little capital 
in their own concerns. 




DR. BLACK continued to take a lively interest in Watt's 
experiments, and lent him occasional sums of money 
from time to time to enable him to prosecute them to an 
issue. But the Doctor's means were too limited to 
permit him to do more than supply Watt's more pressing 1 
necessities. Meanwhile, the debts which the latter had 
already incurred, small though they were in amount, 
hung like a millstone round his neck. Black then 
bethought him whether it would not be possible to asso- 
ciate Watt with some person possessed of sufficient 
means, and of an active commercial spirit, who should 
join as a partner in the risk, and share in the profits of 
the enterprise. Such a person, he thought, was Dr. 
Eoebuck, the founder of the Carroii Iron Works, an 
enterprising man, of undaunted spirit, not scared by 
difficulties, nor a niggard of expense when he saw 
before him any reasonable prospect of advantage. 1 

Roebuck was at that time engaged in sinking for coal 
on a large scale near Boroughstoness, where he ex- 
perienced considerable difficulty in keeping the shafts 
clear of water. The Newcomen engine, which he had 
erected, was found comparatively useless, and he was 
ready to embrace any other scheme which held out 
a reasonable prospect of success. Accordingly, when 
his friend Dr. Black informed him of an ingenious 
young mechanic at Glasgow who had invented a steam- 

1 For Memoir of llocbuck, see * Industrial Biography,' p. 133. 


engine, capable of working with increased power, speed, 
and economy, Roebuck immediately felt interested, 
and entered into correspondence with Watt on the 
subject. He was at first somewhat sceptical as to 
the practicability of the new engine, so different in its 
action from that of Newcomen ; and he freely stated 
his doubts to Dr. Black. He was under the impression 
that condensation might in some way be effected in 
the cylinder without injection ; and he urged Watt to 
try whether this might not be done. Contrary to his 
own judgment, Watt tried a series of experiments with 
this object, and at last abandoned them, Roebuck him- 
self admitting his error. 

Up to this time Watt and Roebuck had not met, 
though they carried on a long correspondence on the 
subject of the engine. In September, 1765, we find 
Roebuck inviting Watt to come over with Dr. Black to 
Kimieil (where Roebuck lived), and discuss with him 
the subject of the engine. Watt wrote to say that " if 
his foot allowed him" he would visit Carron on a 
certain day, from which we infer that he intended 
to walk. But the way was long and the road miry, 
and Watt could not then leave his instrument shop, so 
the visit was postponed. In the mean time Roebuck 
urged Watt to press forward his invention with all 
speed, " whether he pursued it as a philosopher or as a 
man of business." 

In the month of November following, Watt forwarded 
to Roebuck the detailed drawings of a covered cylinder 
and piston to be cast at the Carron Works. Though 
the cylinder was the best that could be made there, it 
was very ill-bored, and was eventually laid aside as 
useless. The piston-rod was made at Glasgow, under 
Watt's own supervision ; and when it was completed 
he was afraid to send it on a common cart, lest 
the workpeople should see it, which would "occasion 
speculation." "I believe," he wrote in July, 1766, "it 


would be best to send it in a box." These precautions 
would seem to have been dictated, in some measure, by 
fear of piracy ; and it is obvious that the necessity of 
acting by stealth increased the difficulty of getting the 
various parts of the proposed engine constructed. Watt's 
greatest obstacle continued to be the clumsiness and 
inexpertness of his mechanics. " My principal hin- 
derance in erecting engines," he wrote to Koebuck, " is 
always the smith-work." 

In the mean time it was necessary for Watt to attend 
to the maintenance of his family. He found that the 
steam-engine experiments brought nothing in, while 
they were a constant source of expense. Besides, 
they diverted him from his retail business, which needed 
constant attention. It ought also to be mentioned that 
his partner having lately died, the business had been 
somewhat neglected and had consequently fallen off. 
At length he determined to give it up altogether, 
and begin the business of a surveyor. He accordingly 
removed from the shop in Buchanan's Land to an office 
on the east side of King-street, a little south of Prince's- 
street. It would appear that he succeeded in obtaining 
a fair share of business in his new vocation. He already 
possessed a sufficient knowledge of surveying from the 
study of the instruments which it had been his business 
to make ; and application and industry did the rest. 
'His first jobs were in surveying lands, defining boun- 
daries, and surveyor's work of the ordinary sort ; from 
which he gradually proceeded to surveys of a more im- 
portant character. 

It affords some indication of the local estimation in 
which Watt was held, that the magistrates of Glasgow 
should have selected him as a proper person to survey a 
canal for the purpose of opening up a new coal-field in 
the neighbourhood, and connecting it with the city, 
with a view to a cheaper and more abundant supply of 


fuel. He also surveyed a ditch-canal for the purpose 
of connecting the rivers Forth and Clyde, by what was 
called the Loch Lomond passage ; though the scheme of 
Brindley and Smeaton was eventually preferred as the 
more direct line. Watt came up to London in 1767, 
in connexion with the application to Parliament for 
powers to construct his canal; and he seems to have 
been very much disgusted with the proceedings before 
" the confounded committee of Parliament," as he called 
it ; adding, " I think I shall not long to have anything 
to do with the House of Commons again. I never saw 
so many wrong-headed people on all sides gathered toge- 
ther." The fact, however, that they had decided against 
him had probably some share in leading him to form 
this opinion as to the wrong-headedness of the Parlia- 
mentary Committee. 

Though interrupted by indispensable business of this 
sort, Watt proceeded with the improvement of his steam- 
engine whenever leisure permitted. Eoebuck 's confi- 
dence in its eventual success was such that in 1767 he 
undertook to pay debts to the amount of 1000/. which 
Watt had incurred in prosecuting his project up to 
that time, and also to provide the means of prosecuting 
further experiments, as well as to secure a patent for 
the engine. In return for this outlay Eoebuck was 
to have two-thirds of the property in the invention. 
Early in 1768 Watt made trial of a new and larger 
model, with a cylinder of seven or eight inches dia- 
meter. But the result was not very satisfactory. " By 
an unforeseen misfortune," he wrote Roebuck, " the 
mercury found its way into the cylinder, and played 
the devil with the solder. This throws us back at least 
three days, and is very vexatious, especially as it hap- 
pened in spite of the precautions I had taken to prevent 
it." Eoebuck, becoming impatient, urged Watt to meet 
him to talk the matter over ; and suggested that as Watt 




could not come as far as Carron, they should meet at 
Kilsyth, about fifteen miles from Glasgow. Watt 
replied, saying he was too unwell to be able to ride so 
far, and that his health was such that the journey would 
disable him from doing anything for three or four days 
after. But he went on with his experiments, patching 
up his engine, and endeavouring to get it into working 
condition. After about a month's labour, he at last 
succeeded to his heart's content ; and he at once com- 
municated the news to his partner, intimating his inten- 
tion of at last paying his long-promised visit to Roebuck 
at Kinneil. " I sincerely wish you joy of this successful 
result," he said, " and hope it will make some return for 
the obligations I owe you." 


Kinneil House, to which Watt hastened to pay his 
visit of congratulation to Dr. Eoebuck, is an old-fashioned 
building, somewhat resembling an old French chateau. 
It was a former country-seat of the Dukes of Hamilton, 
and is finely situated on the shores of the Frith of 
Forth. The mansion is rich in classical associations, 
having been inhabited, since Roebuck's time, by Dugald 
Stewart, who wrote in it his ' Philosophy of the Human 




Mind.' l There he was visited by Wilkie, the painter, 
when in search of subjects for his pictures; and Dugald 
Stewart found for him, in an old farmhouse in the 
neighbourhood, the cradle-chimne.y introduced in the 
" Penny Wedding." But none of these names can stand 
by the side of that of Watt ; and the first thought at 
Kinneil, of every one who is familiar with his history, 
would be of the memorable day when he rode over 
in exultation to wish Dr. Roebuck joy of the success 
of the steam-engine. His note of triumph was, how- 
ever, premature. He had yet to suffer many sickening 
delays and bitter disappointments ; for, though he had 
contrived to get his model executed with fair pre- 
cision, the skill was still wanting to manufacture the 
parts of their full size with the requisite unity ; and his 
present elation was consequently doomed to be succeeded 
by repeated discomfiture. 

The model went so well, however, that it was deter- 
mined at once to take out a patent for the engine. The 
first step was to secure its provisional protection, and 
with that object Watt went to Berwick-upon-Tweed, 
and made a declaration before a Master in Chancery 
of the nature of the invention. In August, 1768, we 
find him in London on the business of the patent. He 
became utterly wearied with the delays interposed by 
sluggish officialism, and disgusted with the heavy fees 
which he was required to pay in order to protect his 
invention. He wrote home to his wife at Glasgow 
in a very desponding mood. Knowing her husband's 
diffidence and modesty, but having the fullest confidence 
in his genius, she replied, " I beg that you will not 
make yourself uneasy, though things should not succeed 

1 When we visited the place many 
years ago, Miss Stewart's spinnet still 
stood in the drawing-room, but there 
was not a tone left in it. Like many 
other old houses, Kinneil has the re- 
putation of being haunted. The ghost 

is that of a " Lady Lilburne," wife of 
the Parliamentary General, who is 
said to have thrown herself out of one 
of the windows during her husband's 


to your wish. If it [the condensing engine] will not 
do, something else will ; never despair." Watt must have 
felt cheered by these brave words of his noble helpmate, 
and encouraged to go onward cheerfully in hope. 

He could not, however, shake off his recurring fits 
of despondency, and on his return to Glasgow, we find 
him occasionally in very low spirits. Though his head 
was full of his engine, his heart ached with anxiety for 
his family, who could not be maintained on hope, 
already so often deferred. The more sanguine Eoebuck 
was elated with the good working of the model, and 
impatient to bring the invention into practice. He 
wrote Watt in October, 1768, " You are now letting the 
most active part of your life insensibly glide away. 
A day, a moment, ought not to be lost. And you 
should not suffer your thoughts to be diverted by any 
other object, or even improvement of this, but only the 
speediest and most effectual manner of executing an 
engine of a proper size, according to your present 

Watt, however, felt that his invention was capable of 
many improvements, and he was never done introducing 
new expedients. He proceeded, in the intervals of leisure 
which he could spare from his surveying business, to 
complete the details of the drawings and specification, 
making various trials of pipe-condensers, plate- 
condensers, and dram-condensers, contriving steam- 
jackets to prevent the waste of heat and new methods 
for securing greater tightness of the piston, inventing 
condenser-pumps, oil-pumps, gauge-pumps, exhausting- 
cylinders, loading-valves, double cylinders, beams, and 
cranks. All these contrivances had to be thought out 
and tested, elaborately and painfully, amidst many 
failures and disappointments ; and Dr. Roebuck began 
to fear that the fresh expedients which were always 
starting up in Watt's brain, would endlessly protract the 
consummation of the invention. Watt, on his part, felt 


that he could only bring the engine nearer to perfection 
by never resting satisfied with imperfect devices, and 
hence he left no means untried to overcome the many 
practical defects in it of which he was so conscious. 
Long after, when a noble lord was expressing to him 
the admiration with which he regarded his great 
achievement, Watt replied : " The public only look 
at my success, and not at the intermediate failures 
and uncouth constructions which have served me as so 
many steps to climb to the top of the ladder." 

As to the lethargy from which Roebuck sought to 
raise Watt, it was merely the temporary reaction of a 
mind strained and wearied with long-continued appli- 
cation to a single subject, and from which it seemed 
to be occasionally on the point of breaking down alto- 
gether. To his intimate friends, Watt bemoaned his 
many failures, his low spirits, his bad health, and his 
sleepless nights. He wrote to his friend Dr. Small l in 
January, 1769, " I have many things I could talk to 
you about much contrived, and little executed. How 
much would good health and spirits be worth to me ! " 
A month later he wrote, " I am still plagued with head- 
aches, and sometimes heart-aches." 

It is nevertheless a remarkable proof of Watt's inde- 
fatigable perseverance in his favourite pursuit, that at 
this very time, when apparently sunk in the depths of 
gloom, he learnt German for the purpose of getting at 
the contents of a curious book, the Theatrum Machinarum 
of Leupold, which just then fell into his hands, and 
contained an account of the machines, furnaces, methods 
of working, profits, &c., of the mines in the Upper 
Hartz. His instructor in the language was a Swiss 
dyer, 2 settled in Glasgow. With the like object of 

1 Dr. Small was born in 17-54- at 
Carmylie, Angus, Scotland, of which 
parish his father . was the minister. 
He had been for some time the pro- 
fessor of Natural Philosophy in the 

Universit}?" of Williamsburg, Virginia, 
from whence he returned to England 
and settled at Birmingham. 

2 " I have," he writes, "just now 
got a curious book, being an account of 





gaining access to untranslated books in French and 
Italian then the great depositories of mechanical and 
engineering knowledge Watt had already mastered 
both those languages. 

In preparing his specification, Watt viewed the sub- 
ject in all its bearings. The production of power by 
steam is a very large one, but Watt grasped it 
thoroughly. The insight with which he searched, 
analysed, arranged, and even provided for future modi- 
fications, was the true insight of genius. He seems with 
an almost prophetic eye to have seen all that steam was 
capable of accomplishing. This is well illustrated by 
his early plan of working steam expansively by cutting 
it off at about half-stroke, thereby greatly economising its 
use ;* as well as by his proposal to employ high-pressure 
steam where cold water could not be used for purposes 

all the machines, furnaces, methods 
of working, profits, &c., of the mines 
of the Upper Hartz. It is unluckily 
in German, which I understand little 
of, but am improving in by the help 
of a truly Chymical Swiss Dyer, who 
is come here to dye standing red on 
linen and cotton, in which he is suc- 
cessful. He is according to the 
custom of philosophers ennuye to a 
great degree, but seems to be more 
modest than is usual with them ; and, 
what is still more unusual, is attached 
only to his dyeing, though he has a 
tolerable knowledge of chymestry. He 
promises to make me a coat that will 
not wet though boiled in water. This 
would be of great use to a hundred 
people I see just now running by, wet 
to the skin. ... I verily believe the 
drops are an inch in diameter ! To 
return to the book it contains an 
account of all the unsuccessful experi- 
ments that have been tried in the 
Hartz, and I assure you it gives me 
some consolation to see the great 
Liebnitz, the rival of Newton, bung- 
ling repeatedly, applying wind mills 
to raise ore while water ran idle past 
him. There is among other machines 
the fellow of Blackie's, only worked by 
water, and a full and true account of 

why it did not succeed, which he 
should read. Their machines in gene- 
ral display great ingenuity though 
ignorance of principles." Watt to 
Small, May 28, 1769. Boulton MSS. 
1 " I mentioned to you a method of 
still doubling the effect of the steam, 
and that tolerably easy, by using the 
power of steam rushing into a vacuum, 
at present lost. This would do a 
little more than double the effect, but 
it would too much enlarge the vessels 
to use it all. It is peculiarly appli- 
cable to wheel engines, and may 
supply the want of a condenser where 
force of steam is only used ; for, open 
one of the steam valves and admit 
steam, until one-fourth of the distance 
between it and the next valve is filled 
with steam, shut the valve, and the 
steam will continue to expand and to 
press round the wheel with a diminish- 
ing power, ending in one-fourth of its 
first exertion. The sum of this series 
you will find greater than one-half, 
though only one-fourth steam was 
used. The power will indeed be un- 
equal, but this can be remedied by a 
fly, or in several other ways." Watt 

to Small, 28th May, 1769. 




of condensation. 1 The careful and elaborate manner in 
which he studied the specification, and the consideration 
which he gave to each of its various details, are clear from 
his correspondence with Dr. Small, which is peculiarly 
interesting, as showing Watt's mind actively engaged in 
the very process of invention. At length the necessary 
specification and drawings were completed and lodged 
early in 1769, a year also remarkable as that in which 
Arkwright took out the patent for his spinning- 

In order to master thoroughly the details of the ordi- 
nary Newcornen engine, and to ascertain the extent of its 
capabilities as well as of its imperfections, Watt under- 
took the erection of several engines of this construction ; 
and during his residence at Kinneil took charge of the 
Schoolyard engine near Boroughstoness, in order that 
he might thereby acquire a full practical knowledge of 
its working. Mr. Hart, in his interesting 'Remi- 
niscences of James Watt,' gives the following account : 
" My late brother had learned from an old man who had 
been a workman at Dr. Roebuck's coal-works when 
Mr. W T att was there, that he had erected a small engine 
on a pit they called Taylor's Pit. The workman could 
not remember what kind of engine it was, but it was 
the fastest-going one he ever saw. From its size, and 
from its being placed in a small timber-house, the 
colliers called it ' the Box Bed.' We thought it likely 
to have been the first of the patent engines made by 

1 He anticipated the use of higli- 
pressure steam, as afterwards em- 
ployed in the locomotive by Trevi thick, 
in the following passage : " I intend," 
he said, "in many cases to employ 
the expansive force of steam to press 
on the piston, or whatever is used 

that the powers of these engines will 
as much exceed those pressed only by 
the air, as the expansive power of the 
steam is greater than the weight of 
the atmosphere. In other cases, 
when plenty of cold water cannot be 
had, 1 intend to work the engines by 

instead of one, in the same manner as I the force of steam only, and to dis- 
the weight of the atmosphere is now j charge it into the air by proper outlets 
employed in common fire-engines. In after it has done its office." Watt to 
some cases I intend to use both the Small, March, 1769. Boulton MSS. 
condenser and this force of steam, so 

L 2 



Mr. Watt, and took the opportunity of mentioning this 
to him at our interview. He said he had erected that 
engine, but he did not wish at the time to venture on a 
patent one until he had a little more experience." l 

At length he proceeded 
to erect the trial engine 
after his new patent, and 
made arrangements to 
stay at Kinneil until the 
work was finished. It had 
been originally intended 
to erect it in the little town 
of Boroughstoness ; but 
as prying eyes might have 
there watched his pro- 
ceedings, and as he wished 
to avoid display, being 
determined, as he said, 
"not to puff," he fixed 
upon an outhouse behind 
Kinneil, close by the burn- 
side in the glen, where 
there was abundance of 
water and secure pri- 
vacy. The materials were 
brought to the place, 
partly from Watt's small 
works at Glasgow, and 
partly from Carron, where 
the cylinder of eighteen 
inches diameter and five 


- had 

cast ; and a few workmen were placed at his disposal. 
The process of erection was very tedious, owing to 

1 Mr. Hart's " Reminiscences of James Watt,' 
Glasgow Archaeological Society,' Part 1. 1859. 

in ' Transactions of the 


the clumsiness of the mechanics employed on the job. 
Watt was occasionally compelled to be absent on other 
business, and on his return he usually found the men 
at a standstill, not knowing what to do next. As 
the engine neared completion, his " anxiety for his 
approaching doom" kept him from sleep ; for his fears, 
as he said, were at least equal to his hopes. He was 
easily cast down by little obstructions, and especially 
discouraged by unforeseen expense. Roebuck, on the 
contrary, was hopeful and energetic, and often took 
occasion to rally the other on his despondency under 
difficulties, and his almost painful want of confidence in 
himself. Roebuck was, doubtless, of much service to Watt 
in encouraging him to proceed with his invention, and 
also in suggesting some important modifications in the 
construction of the engine. It is probable, indeed, that 
but for his help, Watt could not have gone on. Robison 
says, " I remember Mrs. Roebuck remarking one even- 
ing, ' Jamie is a queer lad, and, without the Doctor, his 
invention would have been lost ; but Dr. Roebuck won't 
let it perish.' " 

The new engine, on which Watt had expended so 
much labour, anxiety, and ingenuity, was completed 
in September, 1759, about six months from the date 
of its commencement. But its success was far from 
decided. Watt himself declared it to be "a clumsy 
job." His new arrangement of the pipe-condenser 
did not work well ; and the cylinder having been 
badly cast, was found almost useless. One of his greatest 
difficulties consisted in keeping the piston tight. He 
wrapped it round with cork, oiled rags, tow, old hat, 
paper, horse-dung, and other things, but still there were 
open spaces left, sufficient to let the air in and the 
steam out. Watt was grievously depressed by his want 
of success, and he had serious thoughts of giving up the 
thing altogether. Before abandoning it, however, 
the engine was again thoroughly overhauled, many 


improvements were introduced in it, and a new trial 
was made of its powers. But this proved not more 
successful than the earlier ones had been. " You cannot 
conceive," he wrote to Small, " how mortified I am with 
this disappointment. It is a damned thing for a man 
to have his all hanging by a single string. If I had 
wherewithal to pay the loss, I don't think I should so 
much fear a failure ; but I cannot bear the thought of 
other people becoming losers by my schemes ; and I 
have the happy disposition of always painting the 

Watt was therefore bound to prosecute his project by 
honour not less than by interest; and summoning up 
his courage, he went on with it anew. He continued 
to have the same confidence as ever in the principles of 
his engine : where it broke down was in workmanship. 
Could mechanics but be found capable of accurately 
executing its several parts, he believed that its success 
was certain. But there were no such mechanics then at 

By this time Eoebuck was becoming embarrassed 
with debt, and involved in various difficulties. The 
pits were drowned with water, which no existing 
machinery could pump out, and ruin threatened to over- 
take him before Watt's engine could come to his help. 
He had sunk in the coal-mine, not only his own for- 
tune, but much of the property of his relatives ; and 
he was so straitened for money that he was unable 
to defray the cost of taking out the engine patent 
according to the terms of his engagement, and Watt 
had accordingly to borrow the necessary money from 
his never-failing friend, Dr. Black. He was thus 
adding to his own debts, without any clearer prospect 
before him of ultimate relief. No wonder that he should, 
after his apparently fruitless labour, express to Small his 
belief that, " of all things in life, there is nothing more 
foolish than inventing." The unhappy state of his mind 


may be further inferred from his lamentation expressed 
to the same friend on the 31st of January, 1770. " To- 
day," said he, " I enter the thirty-fifth year of my life, 
and I think I have hardly yet done thirty-five pence 
worth of good in the world ; but I cannot help it." 

Notwithstanding the failure of his engine thus far, 
and the repeated resolution expressed to Small that he 
would invent no more, leading, as inventing did, to only 
vexation, failure, loss, and increase of head-ache, Watt 
could not control his irrepressible instinct to invent; 
and whether the result might be profitable or not, his 
mind went on as before, working, scheming, and 
speculating. Thus, at different times in the course of 
his correspondence with Small, who was a man of a 
like ingenious turn of mind, we find him communi- 
cating various new things, " gimcracks," as he termed 
them, which he had contrived. He was equally ready 
to contrive a cure for smoky chimneys, a canal sluice 
for economising water, a method of determining "the 
force necessary to dredge up a cubic foot of mud under 
any given depth of water," and a means of "clear- 
ing the observed distance of the moon from any given 
star of the effects of refraction and parallax ; " illustrat- 
ing his views by rapid but graphic designs embodied 
in the text of his letters to Small and other corre- 
spondents. One of his minor inventions was a new 
method of readily measuring distances by means of a 
telescope. 1 At the same time he was occupied in 
making experiments on kaolin, with the intention of 
introducing the manufacture of porcelain in the pottery 
work on the Broomielaw, in which he was a partner. 

1 The telescope was mounted with 
two parallel horizontal hairs in the 
focus of the eyeglass, crossed by one 
perpendicular hair. The measuring 
pole was divided into feet and inches, 
so that, wrote Watt, " if the hairs 
comprehend one foot at one chain dis- 

tance, they will comprehend ten feet 
at ten chains," and so on. This in- 
vention Watt made in 1770, and used 
the telescope in his various surveys. 
Eight years later, in 1778, the Society 
of Arts awarded to a Mr. Green a pre- 
mium for precisely the same invention. 




He was also concerned with Dr. Black and Dr. Koe- 
buck in pursuing experiments with the view of decom- 
posing sea-salt by lime, and thereby obtaining alkali 
for purposes of commerce. A patent for the process 
was taken out by Dr. Roebuck, but eventually proved 
a failure, like most of his other projects. We also find 
Watt inventing a muffling furnace for melting metals, 
and sending the drawings to Mr. Boulton at Birming- 
ham for trial. At other times he was occupied with 
Chaillet, the Swiss dyer, experimenting on various 
chemical substances ; corresponding with Dr. Black as 
to the new fluoric or spar acid; and at another time 
making experiments to ascertain the heats at which 
water boils at every inch of mercury from vacuo to air. 
Later we find him inventing a prismatic micrometer 
for measuring distances, which he described in con- 
siderable detail in his letters to Small. 1 He was at 
the same time busy inventing and constructing a new 
surveying quadrant by reflection, and making improve- 
ments in barometers and hygrometers. " I should like 
to know," he wrote to Small, " the principles of your 
barometer : De Luc's hygrometer is nonsense. Pro- 
bavi" Another of his contrivances was his dividing- 
screw, for dividing an inch accurately into 1000 equal 
parts. He states that he found this screw exceedingly 
useful, as it saved him much needless compass-work, 
and, moreover, enabled him to divide lines into the 
ordinates of. any curve whatsoever. 

Such were the multifarious pursuits in which this 
indefatigable student and inquirer was engaged ; 
all tending to cultivate his mind and advance his edu- 
cation, but comparatively unproductive, so far as re- 
garded pecuniary return. So unfortunate, indeed, had 

1 Letter to Small, 24th Nov. 1772. 
Watt, however, took no steps to bring 
this invention before the public, and 
in 1777, a similar instrument having 

been invented by Dr. Maskelyne, was 
presented by him to the Royal Society. 
Thus Watt also lost the credit of this 


Watt's speculations proved, that his friend Dr. Hutton, 
of Edinburgh, addressed to him a New-year's day letter, 
with the object of dissuading him from proceeding 
further with his unprofitable brain-distressing work. 
" A happy new year to you ! " said Hutton ; " may it 
be fertile to you in lucky events, but no new inven- 
tions ! " He went on to say that invention was only for 
those who live by the public, and those who from pride 
choose to leave a legacy to the public. It was not a thing 
likely to be well paid for under a system where the rule 
was to be the best paid for the work that was easiest 
done. It was of no use, however, telling Watt that he 
must not invent. One might as well have told Burns 
that he was not to sing because it would not pay, or 
Wilkie that he was not to paint, or Hutton himself that 
he was not to think and speculate as to the hidden 
operations of nature. To invent was the natural . and 
habitual operation of Watt's intellect, and he could not 
restrain it. 

Watt had already been too long occupied with this 
profitless work : his money was all gone ; he was in 
debt ; and it behoved him to turn to some other em- 
ployment by which he might provide for the indispen- 
sable wants of his family. Having now given up the 
instrument-making business, he confined himself almost 
entirely to surveying. Among his earliest surveys was 
one of a coal canal from Monkland to Glasgow, in 
1769; and the Act authorising its construction was 
obtained in the following year. Watt was invited to 
superintend the execution of the works, and he had 
accordingly to elect whether he would go on with the 
engine experiments, the event of which was doubtful, 
or embrace an honourable and perhaps profitable em- 
ployment, attended with much less risk and uncertainty. 
His necessities decided him. " I had," he said, " a wife 
and children, and saw myself growing grey without 
having any settled way of providing for them." He 


accordingly accepted the appointment offered him by 
the directors of the canal, and undertook to super- 
intend the construction of the works at a salary of 
200/. a year. At the same time he determined not to 
drop the engine, but to proceed with it at such leisure 
moments as he could command. 

The Monkland Canal was a small concern, and Watt 
had to undertake a variety of duties. He acted at the 
same time as surveyor, superintendent, engineer, and 
treasurer, assisted only by a clerk. But the appoint- 
ment proved useful to him. The salary he earned 
placed his family above want, and the out-doors life 
he was required to lead improved his health and 
spirits. After a few months he wrote Dr. Small that 
he found himself more strong, more resolute, less lazy, 
and less confused, than when he began the occupa- 
tion. His pecuniary affairs were also more promising. 
" Supposing the engine to stand good for itself," he 
said, "I am able to pay all my debts and some little 
thing more, so that I hope in time to be on a par with 
the world." But there was a dark side to the picture. 
His occupation exposed him to fatigue, vexation, hun- 
ger, wet, and cold. Then, the quiet and secluded 
habits of his early life did not fit him for the out-door 
work of the engineer. He was timid and reserved, 
and had nothing of the navvy in his nature. He had 
neither the roughness of tongue nor stiffness of back 
to enable him to deal with rude labour gangs. He 
was nervously fearful lest his want of practical ex- 
perience should betray him into scrapes, and lead to 
impositions on the part of his workmen. He hated 
higgling, and declared that he would rather " face a 
loaded cannon than settle an account or make a bargain." 
He had been " cheated," he said, " by undertakers, and 
was unlucky enough to know it." 

Watt continued to act as engineer for the Monkland 




Canal Company for about a year and a half, 1 during 
which he was employed in other engineering works. 
Among these was a survey of the river Clyde, with a 
view to the improvement of the navigation. Watt 
sent in his report; but no steps were taken to carry 
out his suggestions until several years later, when the 
beginning was made of a series of improvements, which 
have resulted in the conversion of the Clyde from a 
pleasant trouting and salmon stream into one of the 
busiest navigable highways in the world. 2 

Among Watt's other labours about the same period 
may be mentioned his survey of a canal between Perth 
and Cupar Angus, through Strathmore ; of the Crinan 
Canal, afterwards carried out by Rennie ; and other 
projects in the western highlands. The Strathmore 
Canal survey was conducted at the instance of the Com- 
missioners of Forfeited Estates. It was forty miles long, 
through a very rough country. Watt set out to make 
it in September, 1770, and was accompanied by snow- 
storms through almost the entire survey. He suffered 
severely from the cold : the winds swept down from 
the Grampians with fury and chilled him to the bone. 
The making of this survey occupied him forty-three 
days, and the remuneration he received for it was 
only eighty pounds, which included expenses. The 
small pay of engineers at that time may be further 
illustrated by the fee paid him in the same year for 

1 The Company afterwards came to 
grief. The original subscription list 
was not rilled up, and the stagnation 
in trade which took place at the out- 
break of the American war, brought 
the works to a standstill. In 1782 
the concern was sold to the Messrs. 
Stirling, who eventually became the 
sole proprietors and finished the un- 

2 There was then a ford at Dumbuck, 
a few miles below Glasgow, which pre- 
vented boats of more than ten tons 

burden ascending to the Broomielaw. 
This was shortly after removed by 
the Clyde Trust, who have expended 
3,564,3971. in improvement of the 
navigation between 1770 and 1863, 
the revenue collected during the same 
time in dues having been 2,288,000?. 
Vessels drawing 21 feet can now ascend 
to the Broomielaw ; and when the pre- 
sent improvements are completed the 
depth at high water is expected to be 
upwards of 24 feet. 




supplying the magistrates of Hamilton with a design 
for the proposed new bridge over the Clyde at that 
town. It was originally intended to employ Mr. 
Smeaton ; but as his charge was ten pounds, which 
was thought too high, Watt was employed in his 
stead. The Burgh minutes record that, after the Act 
had been obtained in 1770, Baillie Naismith was ap- 
pointed to proceed to Glasgow to see Mr. Watt on the 
subject of a design, and his charge being only 7/. 7s., 
he was requested to supply it accordingly. " I have 
lately," wrote Watt to Small, " made a plan and estimate 
of a bridge over our river Clyde, eight miles above 


this : it is to be of five arches and 220 feet waterway, 
founded upon piles on a muddy bottom." ' The bridge, 
after Watt's plan, was begun in 1771, but it was not 
finished until 1780. 2 

About the same time Watt prepared plans of docks 
and piers at Port Glasgow, and of a new harbour at 

1 Watt to Small, 21st Dec. 1770. 
Boulton MSS. 

2 The bridge was partially de- 
stroyed by a flood in 1806, when oue 

of the central piers was thrown down. 
Two of the arches fell, and were re- 
built, but the others stand as origi- 
nally constructed. 


Ayr. The Port Glasgow works were carried out, but 
those at Ayr were postponed. When Eennie came to 
examine the design for the improvement of the Ayr 
navigation, of which the new harbour formed part, he 
took objections to it, principally because of the parallelism 
of the piers, and another plan was eventually adopted. 
His principal engineering job, and the last of the kind 
on which Watt was engaged in Scotland, was a survey 
of the Caledonian Canal, long afterwards carried out 
by Telford. The survey was made in the autumn of 
1773, through a country without roads. " An incessant 
rain," said he, " kept me for three days as wet as water 
could make me ; I could hardly preserve my journal 

In the midst of this dreary work, Watt was summoned 
to Glasgow by the intelligence which reached him of the 
illness of his wife ; and when he reached home he found 
that she had died in childbed. 1 Of all the heavy blows 
he had suffered, this he felt to be the worst. His wife 
had struggled with him through poverty ; she had often 
cheered his fainting spirit when borne down by doubt, 
perplexity, and disappointment ; and now she was gone, 
without being able to share in his good fortune as she 
had done in his adversity. For some time after, when 
about to enter his humble dwelling, he would pause on 
the threshold, unable to summon courage to enter the 
room where he was never more to meet " the comfort of 
his life." " Yet this misfortune," he wrote to Small, 
" might have fallen upon me when I had less ability to 
bear it, and my poor children might have been left 
suppliants to the mercy of the wide world." 

Watt tried to forget his sorrow, as was his custom, in 

1 The child was stillborn. Of four 
other children who were the fruit of 
this marriage, two died young. A 
son and daughter survived ; the son, 
James, succeeded his father, and died 
unmarried, at Aston Hall, near Bir- , 

mingham, in 1848. The daughter 
married Mr. Miller, of Glasgow, whose 
grandson, the present J. W. Gibson 
Watt, Esq., succeeded to the Watt 



increased application to work, though the recovery of 
the elasticity of his mind was in a measure beyond 
the power of his will. There were, at that time, very 
few bright spots in his life. A combination of unfortu- 
nate circumstances threatened to overwhelm him. No 
further progress had yet been made with his steam- 
engine, which he almost cursed as the cause of his mis- 
fortunes. Dr. Eoebuck's embarrassments had reached 
their climax. He had fought against the water which 
drowned his coal until he could fight no more, and he 
was at last delivered into the hands of his creditors a 
ruined man. " My heart bleeds for him," said Watt, 
"but I can do nothing to help him. I have stuck by 
him, indeed, till I have hurt myself." 

But the darkest hour is nearest the dawn. Watt had 
passed through a long night, and a gleam of sunshine at 
last beamed upon him. Matthew Boulton, of Birmingham, 
was at length persuaded to take up the invention on 
which Watt had expended so many of the best years 
of his life, and the turning-point in Watt's fortunes had 

PORT GLASGOW [ By K P. LeilcL ] 

/,'h<} rawed/ by W Ho tt>, after th* vLt by Sir W techy. JR. A 

Pub Lushed/ by Johsi/ Murray Alkanai 



SIRMINGHAM. [By t'ercival Skelton.j 




FROM an early period, Birmingham has been one of the 
principal centres of mechanical industry in England. 
The neighbourhood abounds in coal and iron, and has 
long been famous for the skill of its artisans. Swords 
were forged there in the time of the Ancient Britons. 
The first guns made in England bore the Birmingham 
mark. In 1538 Leland found "many smiths in the 
town that use to make knives and all manner of cutting 
tools, and many loriners that make bittes, and a great 
many nailers." About a century later Camden described 
the place as " full of inhabitants, and resounding with 
hammers and anvils, for the most part of them smiths." 
As the skill of the Birmingham artisans increased, they 
gradually gave up the commoner kinds of smithery, and 
devoted themselves to ornamental metal-work, in brass, 
steel, and iron. They became celebrated for their 
manufacture of buckles, buttons, and various fancy 
articles ; and they turned out such abundance of toys 
that towards the close of last century Burke characterised 
Birmingham as " the great toy-shop of Europe." 

The ancient industry of Birmingham was of a staid 
and steady character, in keeping with the age. Each 
manufacturer kept within the warmth of his own forge. 
He did not go in search of orders, but waited for the 
orders to come to him. Ironmongers brought their 
money in their saddle-bags, took away the goods in ex- 
change, or saw them packed ready for the next waggon 
before they left. Notwithstanding this quiet way of 
doing business, many comfortable fortunes were made in 



the place ; the manufacturers, like their buttons, moving 
off so soon as they had received the stamp and the gilt. 
Hutton, the Birmingham bookseller, says he knew men 
who left the town in chariots who had first approached 
it on foot. Hutton himself entered the town a poor 
boy, and lived to write its history, and make a fortune 
by his industry. 

Until towards the end of last century the town was 
not very easy of approach from any direction. The 
roads leading to it had become worn by the traffic of 
many generations. The hoofs of the pack-horses, helped 
by the rains, had deepened the tracks in the sandy soil, 
until in many places they were twelve or fourteen feet 
deep, so that it was said of travellers that they ap- 
proached the town by sap. One of these old hollow 
roads, still^ called Holloway-head, though now filled 
up, was so deep that a waggon-load of hay might pass 
along it without being seen. There was no direct com- 
munication between Birmingham and London until 
about the middle of the century. Before then, the 
Great Road from London to Chester passed it four 
miles off, and the Birmingham manufacturer, when 
sending wares to London, had to forward his package 
to Castle Bromwich, there to await the approach of the 
packhorse train or the stage-waggon journeying south. 
The Birmingham men, however, began to wake up, and 
in 1747 a coach was advertised to run to London in two 
days " if the roads permit." Twenty years later a stage- 
waggon was put on, and the communication by coach 
became gradually improved. 

When Hutton entered Birmingham in 1740, he was 
struck by the activity of the place and the vivacity of 
the inhabitants, which expressed itself in their looks as 
he passed them in the streets. " I had," he says, " been 
among dreamers, but now I saw men awake. Their 
very step showed alacrity. Every man seemed to know 
and to prosecute his own affairs." The Birmingham 




men were indeed as alert as they looked steady 
workers and clever mechanics men who struck hard 
on the anvil. The artisans of the place had the ad- 
vantage of a long training in mechanical skill. It had 
'been bred in their bone, and descended to them from 
their fathers as an inheritance. 1 In no town in England 
were there then to be found so many mechanics capable 
of executing entirely new work ; nor, indeed, has the 
ability yet departed from them, the Birmingham artisans 
maintaining their individual superiority in intelligent 
execution of skilled work to the present day. We are 
informed that inventors of new machines, foreign as 
well as English, are still in the practice of resorting 
to them for the purpose of getting their inventions em- 
bodied in the best forms, with greater chances of success 
than in any other town in England. 

About the middle of last century the two Boultons, 
father and son, were recognised as among the most en- 
terprising and prosperous of Birmingham manufac- 
turers. The father of the elder Matthew Boulton was 
John Boulton of Northamptonshire, in which county 
Boultons or Boltons have been settled for a long period, 
and where there are records of many clergymen of the 
name. About the end of the seventeenth century, this 
John Boulton settled at Lichfield, where he married 
Elizabeth, heir of Matthew Dyott of Stitchbrooke, by 
whom he obtained considerable property. His means 
must, however, have become reduced; in consequence 

1 There seems reason to believe that 
the capacity for skilled industry is to 
a certain extent transmissible ; and 
that the special aptitude for mechanics 
which characterises the population of 
certain districts, is in a great measure 
the result of centuries of experience, 
transmitted from one generation to 
another. Mr. Morell takes the same 
view : " We have every reason to 
believe," he says, " that the power of 
specialised instincts is transmitted, 

and when the circumstances favour it, 
goes on increasing from age to age in 
intensity, and in a particular adapta- 
tion to the purposes demanded. All 
confirmed habits which become a part 
of the animal nature, seem to be im- 
parted by hereditary descent; and 
thus what seems to be an original 
instinct may, after all, be but the 
accumulated growth and experience of 
many generations." 

M 2 


of which his son Matthew was sent to Birmingham to 
enter upon a career of business, and make his own 
way in the world. He became established in the place 
as a silver stamper and piecer, to which he added other 
branches of manufacture, which his son Matthew after- 
wards largely extended. 

Matthew Boulton the younger was born at Birming- 
ham on the 3rd September, 1728. Little is known of 
his early life, beyond that he was a bright, clever boy, 
and a general favourite with his companions. He re- 
ceived his principal education at a private academy at 
Deritend, kept by the Eev. Mr. Ansted, under whom 
he acquired the rudiments of a good ordinary English 
education. Though he left school early for the purpose 
of following his father's business, he nevertheless con- 
tinued the work of self-instruction, and afterwards 
acquired considerable knowledge of Latin and French, 
as well as of drawing and mathematics. But his chief 
pleasure was in pursuing the study of chemistry and 
mechanics, in which, as we shall shortly find, he became 
thoroughly accomplished. Long after he joined his 
father in business, he delighted to revert to his classical 
favourites. From an entry in his private memorandum- 
book of expenses at the age of about thirty, though then 
very economical in other respects, we find him ex- 
pending considerable sums in experiments on electricity, 
and on one occasion laying out a guinea on a copy of 
Yirgil, from which it appears that trade had not spoilt 
his taste for either science or letters. 
. Young Boulton appears to have engaged in business 
with much spirit. By the time he was seventeen he 
had introduced several important improvements in the 
manufacture of buttons, watch-chains, and other trinkets ; 
and he had invented the inlaid steel buckles which 
shortly after became the fashion. These buckles were 
exported in large quantities to France, from whence 
they were brought back to England and sold as the 


most recent productions of French ingenuity. The 
elder Boulton, having every confidence in his son's dis- 
cretion and judgment, adopted him as a partner so soon 
as he came of age, and from that time forward he took 
almost the entire management of the concern. Although 
in his letters he signed " for father and self," he always 
spoke in the first person of matters connected with the 
business. Thus, in 1757, we find him writing to 
Timothy Holies, London, as to the prices of " coat-link 
and vest buttons," intimating that to lower them would 
be to beat down price and quality until it became no 
business at all ; " yet," said he, " as I have put myself 
to greater expense than anybody else in erecting the 
best conveniences and the completest tools for the pur- 
pose, I am not willing that any interlopers should run 
away with it." We find him at the same time carrying 
on a correspondence with Benjamin Huntsman, of Shef- 
field, the celebrated inventor of cast-steel. 1 On the 19th 
January, 1757, he sends Huntsman "a parcel of goods 
of the newest patterns," and at the same time orders a 
quantity of Huntsman's steel. "When thou hast some 
of a proper size and quality for me, and an opportunity 
of sending it, thou may'st, but I should be glad to have 
it a little tougher than the last." He concludes " I 
hope thy Philosophic Spirit still laboureth within thee, 
and may it soon bring forth Fruit useful to mankind, 
but more particularly to thyself, is the sincere wish of 
Thy Obliged Friend." With a view to economy, Boul- 
ton in course of time erected a steel-house of his own 
for the purpose of making steel ; and he frequently used 
it to convert the cuttings and scraps of the small iron 
wares which he manufactured, into ordinary steel, after- 
wards melting and converting it into cast-steel in the 
usual way. 

From the earliest glimpses we can get of Boulton as a 

For .Memoir of Huntsman, see 'Industrial Biography,' 102-110. 


man of business, it would appear to have been his aim 
to be at the top of whatsoever branch of manufacture he 
undertook. He endeavoured to produce the best pos- 
sible articles in regard of design, material, and work- 
manship. Taste was then at a low ebb, and " Brum- 
magem " had become a byword for everything that was 
gaudy, vulgar, and meretricious. Boulton endeavoured 
to get rid of this reproach, and aimed at raising the 
standard of taste in manufacture to the highest point. 
With this object, he employed the best artists to design 
his articles, and the cleverest artisans to manufacture 
them. Apart from the question of elevating the popular 
taste, there can be no doubt that this was good policy on 
his part, for it served to direct public attention to the 
superior and honest quality of the articles produced by 
his firm, and eventually brought him a large accession 
of business. 

In 1759, Boulton's father died, bequeathing to him 
the considerable property which he had accumulated by 
his business. The year following, when thirty-two 
years of age, Matthew married Anne, the daughter of' 
Luke Robinson, Esq., of Lichfield. The lady was a 
distant relation of his own ; the Dyotts of Stitchbrooke, 
whose heir his grandfather had married, being nearly 
related to the Babingtons of Curborough, from whom 
Miss Robinson was lineally descended Luke Robinson 
having married the daughter and co-heir of John 
Babington of Curborough and Patkington. Consi- 
derable opposition was offered to the marriage by the 
lady's friends, on account of Matthew Boulton's occu- 
pation ; but he pressed his suit, and with good looks 
and a handsome presence to back him, he eventually 
succeeded in winning the heart and hand of Anne 
Robinson. He was now, indeed, in a position to have 
retired from business altogether. But a life of inactivity 
had no charms for him. He liked to mix with men in 
the affairs of active life, and to take his full share in the 




world's business. Indeed, he hated ease and idleness, 
and found his greatest pleasure in constant occupation. 

Instead, therefore, of retiring from trade, he deter- 
mined to engage in it more extensively. He entertained 
the ambition of founding a manufactory that should be 
the first of its kind, and serve as a model for the manu- 
facturers of his neighbourhood. His premises on Snow- 
hill, 1 Birmingham, having become too small for his 
purpose, he looked about him for a suitable spot on 
which to erect more commodious workshops ; and he 
was shortly attracted by the facilities presented by the 
property afterwards so extensively known as the famous 

Soho is about two miles north of Birmingham, on the 
Wolverhampton road. It is not in the parish of Bir- 
mingham, nor in the county of Warwick, but just over 

1 While on Snow-hill, Mr. Boulton's I 
business was principally confined to | 
the making of buttons, shoe-buckles, ' 
articles in steel, and various kinds of 
trinkets. His designation was that 
of " toymaker," as is shown by the 
loll* > wing document copied from the 
original : " Received of Matthew 
Boulton, toymaker, Snow-hill, three 
shillings and sixpence, for which sum 
I solemnly engage, if he should be 
chosen by lot to serve in the militia 
for this parish, at the first meeting 
for that purpose, to procure a substi- 
tute that shall be approved of. Bir- 
mingham, January 11, 1762, Henry 
Brookes, Sergt." The Birmingham 
toymaker was, however, often a man | 
doing a large business, producing arti- 
cles of utility as well as ornament. 
Mr. Osier, the Birmingham manufac- 
turer of glass beads and other toys, ! 
when examined before a Committee j 
of the House of Commons many years | 
since, astonished the members by in- | 
forming them that trifling though | 
dolls' eyes might appear to be as an 
article of manufacture, he had once 
obtained an order for 500Z. worth of 
the article. " Eighteen years ago," 
said he, " on my first going to London, 

a respectable-looking man in the city 
asked me if I could supply him with 
dolls' eyes ; and I was foolish enough 
to feel half offended ; I thought it de- 
rogatory to my dignity as a manufac- 
turer to make dolls' eyes. He took 
me into a room quite as wide, and 
perhaps twice the length of this, and 
we had just room to walk between 
the stacks, from the floor to the ceil- 
ing, of parts of dolls. He said, 
* These are only the legs and the 
arms ; the trunks are below.' But I 
saw enough to convince me, that he 
wanted a great many eyes. . . . He 
ordered various quantities, and of 
various sizes and qualities. On re- 
turning to the Tavistock Hotel, I 
found that the order amounted to 
upwards of 500?. . . . Calculating on 
every child in this country not using 
a doll till two years old, and throwing 
it aside at seven, and having a new 
one annually, I satisfied myself that 
the eyes alone would produce a circu- 
lation of a great many thousand 
pounds. I mention this merely to 
show the importance of trifle?." 
Babbage, ' Economy of Machinery and 
Manufactures,' 243-5. 




the border, in the county of Stafford. Down to the 
middle of last century the ground on which it stands 
was a barren heath, used only as a rabbit-warren. 
The sole dwelling on it was the warrener's hut, which 
stood near the summit of the hill, on the spot afterwards 
occupied by Soho House ; and the warrener's well is still 
to be found in one of the cellars of the mansion. In 
1756, Mr. Edward Euston took a lease of the ground 
for ninety-nine years from Mr. Wyerley, the lord of 
the manor, with liberty to make a cut about half a mile 
in length for the purpose of turning the waters of 
Hockley Brook into a pool under the brow of the hill. 
The head of water thus formed was used to drive a 
feeble mill below, which Mr. Ruston had established for 
laminating metals. He also built a small dwelling- 
house about 150 yards from the mill, and expended 
upon the place a sum of about 1000/. in all. When 
Mr. Boulton was satisfied that the place would suit his 
purpose, he entered into arrangements with Mr. Ruston 
for the purchase of his lease, 1 on the completion of 
which he proceeded to rebuild the mill on a large scale, 

1 Mr. Boulton afterwards purchased 
the fee simple of the property, toge- 
ther with much of the adjoining land. 
The nature of his tenure caused him 
to take a lively interest in the ques- 
tion of common lands enclosure, and at 
a much later period (17th April, 1790) 
we find him writing to the Eight Hon. 
Lord Hawkesbury as follows : " The 
argument of robbing the poor [by 
enclosures of wastes] is fallacious. 
They have no legal title to the 
common land ; and the more of it that 
is cultivated, the more work and the 
more bread there will be for them. I 
speak from experience ; for I founded 
my manufactory upon one of the most 
barren commons in England, where 
there existed but a few miserable 
huts filled with idle beggarly people, 
who by the help of the common land 
and a little thieving made shift to 
live without working. The scene is 
now entirely changed. I have em- j 

ployed a thousand men, women, and 
children, in my aforesaid manufactory 
for nearly thirty years past. The 
Lord of the Manor hath exterminated 
these very poor cottages, and hundreds 
of clean comfortable cheerful houses 
are found erected in their place. Thus 
the inhabitants of the parish have 
been trebled without at all increasing 
the poor levies. I am more confirmed 
in this view when I turn my eyes to 
a neighbouring parish (Sutton Cole- 
field), where there are 10,000 acres of 
common land uncultivated, and yet 
the poor rates are very high. Let 
this land be divided, enclosed, culti- 
vated, and rendered saleable to active, 
industrious, and spirited men ; and 
the poor will then have plenty of 
work, and the next generation of them 
will be fully reconciled to earning 
their bread instead of begging for it." 
Itoulton MSS. 




and in course of time removed thither the whole of his 
tools, machinery, and workmen. The new manufactory, 
when finished, consisted of a series of roomy workshops 
conveniently connected with each other, and capable of 
accommodating upwards of a thousand workmen. The 
building and stocking of the premises cost upwards of 


Before removing to Soho, Mr. Boultoii took into 
partnership Mr. John Fothergill, with the object of 
more vigorously extending his business operations. Mr. 
Fothergill possessed a very limited capital, but he was 
a man of good character and active habits of business, 
with a considerable knowledge of foreign markets. On 
the occasion of his entering the concern, stock was taken 
of the warehouse on Snow Hill ; and some idea of the 
extent of Boulton's business at the time may be formed 
from the fact, that his manager, Mr. Zaccheus Walker, 
assisted by Farquharson, Nuttall, Frogatt, and half-a- 
dozen labourers, were occupied during eight days in 
weighing metals, counting goods, and preparing an 
inventory of the effects and stock in trade. The part- 




nership commenced at midsummer, 1762, and shortly 
after the principal manufactory was removed to Soho. 

Steps were immediately taken to open up new con- 
nexions and agencies at home and abroad ; and a large 
business was shortly established with many of the prin- 
cipal towns and cities of Europe, in filagree and inlaid 
work, livery and other buttons, buckles, clasps, watch- 
chains, and various kinds of ornamental metal wares. 
The firm shortly added the manufacture of silver plate 
and plated goods to their other branches, 1 and turned 
out large quantities of candlesticks, urns, brackets, and 
various articles in ormolu. The books of the firm indi- 
cate the costly nature of their productions, 500 ounces of 
silver being given out at a time, besides considerable 
quantities of gold and platina for purposes of fabrication. 
Boulton himself attended to the organization and 
management of the works and to the extension of the 
trade at home, while Fothergill devoted himself to 
establishing and superintending the foreign agencies. 

From the first, Boulton aimed at establishing a 
character for the excellence of his productions. They 
must not only be honest in workmanship, but tasteful 
in design. He determined, so far as in him lay, to 
get rid of the "Brummagem" reproach. Thus we find 
him writing to his partner from London : " The pre- 
judice that Birmingham hath so justly established 
against itself makes every fault conspicuous in all 
articles that have the least pretensions to taste. How 
can I expect the public to countenance rubbish from 

1 Mr. Keir, in a MS. memoir of 
Mr. Boulton now before us, says lie 
was the first to introduce the silver 
plate business at Birmingham, and to 
make complete services in solid silver. 
But the business was not profitable, 
in consequence of the great value of 
the material, the loss of interest upon 
which was not compensated by the 

additional price put upon it for work- 
manship. One good consequence of 
the silver plate business, however, 
was the establishment of an assay 
office in Birmingham, the necessary 
Act for which was obtained at Mr. 
Boulton's expense, and proved of much 
advantage to the town. 


Soho, while they can procure sound and perfect work 
from any other quarter ? " 

He frequently went to town for the express purpose 
of reading and making drawings of rare works in metal 
in the British Museum, sending the results, down to 
Soho. When rare objects of art were offered for sale, 
he endeavoured to secure them. " I bid five guineas," 
he wrote his partner on one occasion; " for the Duke of 
Murlborough's great blue vase, but it sold for ten. . . 
I bought two bronzed figures, which are sent here- 
with." He borrowed antique candlesticks, vases, and 
articles in metal from the Queen and from various 
members of the nobility. " I wish Mr. Eginton," he 
wrote, " would take good casts from the Hercules and 
the Hydra, and then let it be well gilt and returned 
with the seven vases ; for 'tis the Queen's. I perceive 
we shall want many such figures, and therefore we 
should omit no opportunity of taking good casts." 
The Duke of Northumberland lent Boulton many of 
his most highly-prized articles for imitation by his 
workmen. Among his other liberal helpers in the same 
way, we find the Duke of Richmond, Lord Shelburne, 
and the Earl of Dartmouth. The Duke gave him an 
introduction to Horace Walpole, for the purpose of 
enabling him to visit and examine the art treasures of 
Strawberry Hill. " The vases," said he, in writing to 
Boulton, " are, in my opinion, better worth your seeing 
than anything in England, and I wish you would have 
exact drawings of them taken, as I may very possibly 
like to have them copied by you." Lord Shelburne's 
opinion of Boulton may be gathered from his letter to 
Mr. Adams, the architect, in which he said : " Mr. 
Boulton is the most enterprising man in different ways 
in Birmingham, and is very desirous of cultivating Mr. 
Adams's taste in his productions, and has bought his 
Dioclesian by Lord Shelburne's advice." 


Boulton, however, did not confine himself to England ; 
he searched the Continent over for the best specimens 
of handicraft as models for imitation ; and when he 
found them he strove to equal, if not to excel them in 
style and quality. He sent his agent, Mr. Wendler, on 
a special mission of this sort, to Venice, Rome, and 
other Italian cities, to purchase for him the best 
specimens of metal-work, and obtain for him designs 
of various ornaments vases, cameos, intaglios, and 
statuary. On one occasion we find Wendler sending 
him 456 prints, Boulton acknowledging that they 
will prove exceedingly useful for the purposes of his 
manufacture. At the same time, Fothergill was travel- 
ling through France and Germany with a like object, 
while he was also establishing new connexions with a 
view to extended trade. 1 

While Boulton was ambitious of reaching the highest 
excellence in his own line of business, he did not confine 
himself to that, but was feeling his way in various 
directions outside of it. Thus to his friend Wedgwood 
he wrote on one occasion, that he admired his vases so 
much that he " almost wished to be a potter." At one 
time, indeed, he had serious thoughts of beginning the 
fictile manufacture ; but he rested satisfied with mount- 
ing in metal the vases which Wedgwood made. " The 

1 " If, in the course of your future ! in all things that they may have 

travelling," he wrote Mr. Wendler 
(July, 1767), " you can pick up for 
me any metallic ores or fossil sub- 
stances, or any other curious natural 
productions, I should be much obliged 
to you, as I am fond of all those 
things that have a tendency to im- 
.prove my knowledge in mechanical 
arts, in which my manufactory will 
every year become more and more 
general, and therefore wish to know 
the taste, the fashions, the toys, both 

occasion for gold, silver, copper, 
plated, gilt, pinchbeck, steel, platina, 
tortoiseshell, or anything else that 
may become an article of general de- 
mand. I have lately begun to make 
snuff-boxes, instrument-cases, tooth- 
picks, &c., in metal, gilt, and in tor- 
toiseshell inlaid, likewise gilt and 
pinchbeck watch-chains. We are 
now being completely fixed at Soho, 
and when Mr. Fothergill returns 
(which will not be for six months), I 

useful and ornamental, the imple- I shall then have more time to attend to 
ments, vessels, &c., that prevail in all ! improvements than I have at present." 
the different parts of Europe, us I Boulton, MSS. 
should be glad to work for all Europe 


mounting of vases," he wrote, " is a large field for 
fancy, in which I shall indulge, as I perceive it pos- 
sible to convert even a very ugly vessel into a beautiful 
vase." ' 

Another branch of business that he sought to establish 
was the manufacture of clocks. It was one of his lead- 
ing ideas, that articles in common use might be made 
much better and cheaper if manufactured on a large 
scale with the help of the best machinery ; and he 
thought this might be successfully done in the making 
of clocks and timepieces. The necessary machinery 
was erected accordingly, and the new branch of busi- 
ness was started. Some of the timepieces were of an 
entirely novel arrangement. One of them, invented 
by Dr. Small, contained but a single wheel, and was 
considered a piece of very ingenious construction. 
Boulton also sought to rival the French makers of 
ornamental timepieces, by whom the English markets 
were then almost entirely supplied ; and some of the 
articles of this sort turned out by him were of great 
beauty. One of his most ardent encouragers and ad- 
mirers, the Hon. Mrs. Montagu, wrote to him, "I 
take greater pleasure in our victories over the French 
in the contention of arts than of arms. The achieve- 
ments of Soho, instead of making widows and orphans, 
make marriages and christenings. Your noble industry, 
while elevating the public taste, provides new occupa- 

1 Boulton to Wedgwood, January, \ stupendous geniuses of the age, and 
1769. Wedgwood was one of his ' has really cut me up very cleanly. He 
most intimate friends ; the two alike j talks, too, that he should not wonder 
aiming at excellence in their respec- if some surprising genius at Birming- 

tivc branches of production. Their 
kindred efforts seem to have excited 
the ire of some satirist, whose effusion 
against them in the ' Public Ledger * 
is thus referred to in the postscript of 
a letter from Wedgwood to Boulton, 
dated 19th February, 1771 : " If you 
take in the ' Public Ledger' you'll see 

ham should be tempted to make 
Roman medals and tenpenny nails, 
or Corinthian knives and daggers, and 
style himself Roman medal and Etrus- 
can tenpenny nail-maker to the Em- 
press of Abyssinia. But see the paper : 
I believe it is the 'first week in 
February, and is one of the better 

that Mr. Antipuffado has done me the j sort of this class." Boulton MSS. 
honour to rank me with the most 




tions for the poor, and enables them to bring up their 
families in comfort. Go on, then, sir, to triumph over 
the French in taste, and to embellish your country with 
useful inventions and elegant productions." 

Boulton's efforts to improve the industrial arts did 
not, however, always meet with such glowing eulogy as 
this. Two of his most highly finished astronomical 
clocks could not find purchasers at his London sale ; on 
which he wrote to his wife at Soho, "I find phi- 
losophy at a very low ebb in London, and I have there- 
fore brought back my two fine clocks, which I will 
send to a market where common sense is not out of 
fashion. If I had made the clocks play jigs upon bells, 
and a dancing bear keeping time, or if I had made a 
horse-race upon their faces, I believe they would have 
had better bidders. I shall therefore bring them back 
to Soho, and some time this summer will send them to 
the Empress of Russia, who, I believe, would be glad 
of them." l During the same visit to . London, he 
was more successful with the king and queen, who 
warmly patronised his productions. "The king," he 
wrote to his wife, "hath bought a pair of cassolets, 
a Titus, a Venus clock, and some other things, and 
inquired this morning how yesterday's sale went. I 
shall see him again, I believe. I was with them, the 
queen and all the children, between two and three 
hours. There were, likewise, many of the nobility 
present. Never was man so much complimented as I 
have been; but I find that compliments don't make 
fat nor fill the pocket. The queen showed me her 
last child, which is a beauty, but none of 'em are equal 

1 The clocks, with several other 
articles, were sent out to Russia, and 
submitted to the Empress through 
the kindness of Earl Cathcart. His 
lordship, in communicating the result 
to Mr. Boulton, said " I have the 
pleasure to inform you that her Im- 

perial Majesty not only bought them 
all, last week, but did me the honour 
to tell me that she was extremely 
pleased with them, and thought them 
superior in every respect to the French, 
as well as cheaper, which entitled 
them in all lights to a preference." 


to the General of Soho or the fair Maid of the Mill. 1 
God bless them both, and kiss them for me." 

In another letter he described a subsequent visit to 
the palace. " I am to wait upon their majesties again 
so soon as our Tripod Tea-kitchen arrives, and again 
upon some other business. The queen, I think, is much 
improved in her person, and she now speaks English 
like an English lady. She draws very finely, is a great 
musician, and works with her needle better than Mrs, 
Betty. However, without joke, she is extremely sen- 
sible, very affable, and a great patroness of English 
manufactures. Of this she gave me a particular in- 
stance ; for, after the king and she had talked to me 
for nearly three hours, they withdrew, and then the 
queen sent for me into her boudoir, showed me her 
chimney piece, and asked me how many vases it would 
take to furnish it ; ' for,' said she, ' all that china shall 
be taken away.' She also desired that I would fetch 
her the two finest steel chains I could make. All 
this she did of her own accord, without the presence of 
the king, which I could not help putting a kind con- 
struction upon." '' 

Thus stimulated by royal and noble patronage, 
Boulton exerted himself to the utmost to produce articles 
of the highest excellence. Like his friend Wedgwood, 
he employed Flaxman and other London artists to 
design his choicer goods; but he had many foreign 
designers and skilled workmen, French and Italian, in 
his regular employment. He attracted these men by 
liberal wages, and kept them attached to him by kind 
and generous treatment. On one occasion we find the 
Duke of Richmond applying to him to recommend a 
first-class artist to execute some special work in metal 
for him. Boulton replies that he can strongly recom- 

1 Pet names of his two children, but we infer that they were written 
Matthew Robinson and Anne Boulton. 

in the summer of 1767. 

2 These letters are without date, 



mend one of his own men, an honest, steady workman, 
an excellent metal turner. " He hath made for me 
some exceeding good acromatic telescopes [another 
branch of Boulton's business]. ... I give him two 
guineas a week and a house to live in. He is a 
Frenchman, and formerly worked with the famous M. 
Germain ; he afterwards worked for the Academy of 
Sciences at Berlin, and he hath worked upwards of 
two years for me." ] 

Before many years had passed, Soho was spoken of 
with pride, as one of the best schools of skilled industry 
in England. Its fame extended abroad as well as at 
home, and when distinguished foreigners came into 
England, they usually visited Soho as one of the 
national sights. When the manufactory was complete 2 
and in full work, Boulton removed from his house 
on Snow-hill to the mansion of Soho, which he had 
by this time considerably enlarged and improved. 
There he continued to live until the close of his life, 
maintaining a splendid hospitality. Men of all nations, 
and of all classes and opinions, were received there by 
turns, princes, philosophers, artists, authors, merchants, 
and poets. In August, 1767, while executing the two 
chains for the queen, we find him writing to his London 
agent as his excuse for a day's delay in forwarding it : 
" I had lords and ladies to wait on yesterday ; I have 
French and Spaniards to-day ; and to-morrow I shall 
have Germans, Russians, and Norwegians." For many 
years the visitors at Soho House were so numerous and 
arrived in such constant succession, that it more re- 
sembled an hotel than a private mansion. 

1 Boulton to the Duke of Eichmond, 
Ajril 8, 1770. The Duke was en- 
gaged at the time in preparing a set 
of machines for making the various 
experiments in Natural Philosophy 
described in S'Gravande's book. The 
Duke was himself a good turner and 
worker in inclal. 

2 The manufactory was complete so 
far as regarded the hardware manu- 
facture. But additions were con- 
stantly being made to it ; and, as 
other branches of industry were added, 
it became more than doubled in extent 
and accommodation. 




The rapid extension of the Soho business necessarily 
led to the increase of the capitaT invested in it. Boulton 
had to find large sums of money for increased stock, 
plant, and credits. He raised 3000/. on his wife's 
estate ; he borrowed 5000/. from his friend Baum- 
garten ; and he sold considerable portions of the pro- 
perty left him by his father, by which means he was 
enabled considerably to extend his operations. There 
were envious busybodies about who circulated rumours 
to his discredit, and set the report on foot, that to carry 
on a business on so large a scale would require a capital 
of 8 0,0 GO/. " Their evil speaking," said he to a corre- 
spondent, "will avail but little, as our house is founded 
on so firm a rock that envy and malice will not be able 
to shake it ; and I am determined to spare neither pains 
nor money to establish such a house as will acquire 
both honour and wealth." The rapid strides he was 
making may be inferred from the statement made to 
the same correspondent, which showed that the gross 
returns of the firm, which were 7000/. in 1763, had 
advanced to 30,000/. in 1767, with orders still upon the 



Though he had a keen eye for business, Boulton 
regarded character more than profit. He would have 
no connexion with any transaction of a discreditable 
kind. Orders were sent to him from France for base 
money, but he spurned them with indignation. " I 
will do anything," he wrote to M. Motteaux, his 
Paris agent, " short of being common informer against 
particular persons, to stop the malpractices of the 
Birmingham coiners." He declared he was as ready 
to do business on reasonable terms as any other person, 
but he would not undersell ; " for," said he, " to run 
down prices would be to run down quality, which could 
only have the effect of undermining confidence, and 
eventually ruining trade." His principles were equally 
honourable as regarded the workmen of rival employers. 
" I have had many offers and opportunities," he said to 
one, " of taking your people, whom I could, with con- 
venience to myself, have employed ; but it is a practice 
I abhor. Nevertheless, whatever game we play at, I 
shall always avail myself of the rules with which 
'tis played, or I know I shall make but a very indif- 
ferent figure in it." ] 

He was frequently asked to take gentlemen appren- 
tices into his works, but declined to receive them, 
though hundreds of pounds' premium were in many 
cases offered with them. He preferred employing 
the humbler class of boys, whom he could train up 
as skilled workmen. He was also induced to prefer 
the latter for another reason, of a still more creditable 
kind. " I have," said he, in answer to a gentleman 
applicant, "built and furnished a house for the re- 
ception of one kind of apprentices fatherless^ children, 
parish apprentices, and hospital boys ; and gentlemen's 
sons would probably find themselves out of place in 
such companionship." 

Eoulton to John Taylor, 23rd January, 1769. Eoulton MSS. 




While occupied with his own affairs, and in con- 
ducting what he described as " the largest hardware 
manufactory in the world," Boulton found time to take 
an active part in promoting the measures then on foot 
for opening up the internal navigation of the country. 
He was a large subscriber to the Grand Trunk and 
Birmingham Canal schemes, the latter of which was 
of the greater importance to him personally, as it 
passed close by Soho, and thus placed his works in 
direct communication both with London and the north- 
ern coal and manufacturing districts. 1 

Coming down to a few years later, in 1770, we find 
his business still growing, and his works and plant 
absorbing till more capital, principally obtained by 
borrowing. In a letter to Mr. Adams, the celebrated 
architect, requesting him**!*) prepare the design of a 
ne\^ sale-rt)om in London, he described the manufactory 
at Soho as in full progress, from 700 to 800 persons 
being employed as metallic artists and workers in 
tortoiseshell, stones, glass, and enamel. " I have almost 
every machine," said he, "that is applicable to those 
arts ; I have two water-mills employed in rolling, po- 

1 When the canal came to "be con- 
structed at the point at which it 
passed Soho, it occasioned him great 
anxiety through the leakage of the 
canal banks and loss of water for the 
purposes of his manufactory. The 
supply, especially in dry summers, 
was already too limited; but the 
canal threatened to destroy it alto- 
gether. Writing to Mr. Thomas 
Gilbert, M. P., on the subject in 
February, 1769, he said, " The very 
holes which Mr. Smeaton hath dug to 
try the ground, drink up the water 
nearly as fast as you can pour it in. 
.... Let Smeaton or Brindley, or all 
the engineers upon earth give what 
evidence they will before Parliament, 
I am convinced by last summer's 
experience that if the proprietors of 
the canal continue to take the two 
streams on wliich my mill depends, it 

is ruined. I might as well have built 
it upon the summit of the hill." After 
the act had passed he wrote his friend 
Garbett, " I have seen the testimony 
of the two engineers, Smeaton and 
Yeoman, but I value the opinions of 
neither of them, nor of Brindley nor 
Simcox (in this case), nor of tho 
whole tribe of jobbing ditchers, who 
are retained as evidence on any side 
which first applies for them." His 
alarms, however, proved unfounded, 
as the leakage of the canal was event- 
ually remedied; and in November, 
1772, we rind him writing to the Earl 
of Warwick, " Our navigation goes on 
prosperously; the junction with the 
Wolverhampton Canal is complete ; 
and we already sail from Birmingham 
to Bristol and to Hull." Boulton 

x 2 


lishing, grinding, and turning various sorts of lathes. I 
have trained up many, and am training up more plain 
country lads into good workmen ; and wherever I find 
indications of skill and ability, I encourage them. I 
have likewise established correspondence with almost 
every mercantile town in Europe, and am thus regu- 
larly supplied with orders for the grosser articles in 
common demand, by which I am enabled to employ 
such a number of hands as to provide me with an 
ample choice of artists for the finer branches of work ; 
and I am thereby encouraged to erect and employ 
a more extensive apparatus than it would be prudent 
to provide for the production of the finer articles 

It is indeed probable though Boulton was slow to 
admit it that he had been extending his business more 
rapidly than his capital would conveniently allow ; 
for we find him becoming more and more pressed for 
means to meet the interest on the borrowed money 
invested in buildings, tools, and machinery. He had 
obtained 10,000/. from a Mr. Tonson of London ; and 
on the death of that gentleman, in 1772, he had con- 
siderable difficulty in raising the means to pay off the 
debt. His embarrassment was increased by a serious 
commercial panic, aggravated by the failure of Fordyce 
brothers, by which a considerable sum deposited with 
them remained locked up for some time, and he was 
eventually a loser to the extent of 200 01. Other failures 
and losses followed ; and trade came almost to a stand- 
still. Yet he bravely held on. " We have a thousand 
mouths at Soho to feed," he says ; " and it has taken so 
much labour and pains to get so valuable and well- 
organised a staff of workmen together, that the opera- 
tions of the manufactory must be carried on at whatever 
risk." He continued to receive distinguished visitors 
at his works. " Last week," he wrote Mr. Ebbenhouse, 
" we had Prince Poniatowski, nephew of the King 


of Poland, and the French, Danish, Sardinian, and 
Dutch Ambassadors ; this week we have had Count 
Orloff, one of the five celebrated brothers who are 
such favourites with the Empress of Bussia ; and only 
yesterday I had the Viceroy of Ireland, who dined 
with me. Scarcely a day passes without a visit from 
some distinguished personage." 

Besides carrying on the extensive business connected 
with his manufactory at Soho, this indefatigable man 
found time to prosecute the study of several important 
branches of practical science. It was scarcely to be 
supposed that he had much leisure at his disposal ; but 
in life it often happens that the busiest men contrive 
to find the most leisure ; and he who is "up to the ears" 
in work, can, nevertheless, snatch occasional intervals 
to devote to inquiries in which his heart is engaged. 
Hence we find Boulton ranging at intervals over a 
wide field of inquiry ; at one time studying geology, 
and collecting fossils, minerals, and specimens for his 
museum ; at another, reading and experimenting on 
fixed air ; and at another studying Newton's works 
with the object of increasing the force of projectiles. 1 
But the subject which perhaps more than all interested 
him was the improvement of the Steam Engine, which 
shortly after led to his introduction to James Watt. 

1 Among Boulton's scientific memo- i proposed the truer boring of the guns, 
randa, we find some curious specula- l the use of a telescopic sight, and a 
tions, bearing the date of 1766, rela- j cylindrical shot with its end of a 
tive to improvements which he was j parabolic form as presenting in his 
trying to work out in gunnery. He opinion the least resistance to the air. 






WANT of water-power was one of the great defects of 
Soho as a manufacturing establishment, and for a long 
time Boulton struggled with the difficulty. The severe 
summer droughts obliged him to connect a horse-mill 
with the water-wheel. From six to ten horses were em- 
ployed as an auxiliary power, at an expense of from five 
to eight guineas a week. But this expedient, though costly, 
was found very inconvenient. Boulton next thought 
of erecting a pumping-engine after Savery or New- 
comen's construction, for the purpose of raising the water 
from the mill-stream and returning it back into the reser- 
voir thereby maintaining a head of water sufficient to 
supply the water-wheel and keep the mill in regular work. 
" The enormous expense of the horse-power," he wrote 
to a friend, " put me upon thinking of turning the mill 
by fire, and I made many fruitless experiments on the 

In 1766 we find him engaged in a correspondence 
with the distinguished Benjamin Franklin as to steam 
power. Eight years before, Franklin had visited Boulton 
at Birmingham and made his acquaintance. They were 
mutually pleased with each other, and continued to cor- 
respond during Franklin's stay in England, exchanging 
their views on magnetism, electricity, and other subjects. 1 

1 On the 22nd May, 1765, Franklin 
writes Boulton, " Mr. Baskerville in- 
forms me that you have lately had a 
considerable addition to your fortune, 

on which 1 sincerely congratulate you. 
I beg leave to introduce my friend 
Doctor Small to your acquaintance, 
and to recommend him to your civili- 




When Boultoii began to study the fire-engine with a 
view to its improvement, Franklin was one of the first 
whom he consulted. Writing him on the 22nd February, 
1766, he said, 

" My engagements since Christmas have not permitted me to make 
any further progress with my fire-engine ; but, as the thirsty season 
is approaching apace, necessity will oblige me to set about it in 
good earnest. Query, AVhich of the steam- valves do you like best? 
Is it better to introduce the jet of cold water at the bottom of the 
receiver, or at the top ? Each has its advantages and disadvantages. 
My thoughts about the secondary or mechanical contrivances of the 
engine are too numerous to trouble you with in this letter, and yet 
I have not been lucky enough to hit upon any that are objectionless. 
I therefore beg, if any thought occurs to your fertile genius which 
you think may be useful, or preserve me from error in the execution 
of this engine, you'll be so kind as to communicate it to me, and 
you'll very greatly oblige me." 

From a subsequent letter it appears that Boulton, like 
Watt who was about the same time occupied with his 
invention at Glasgow had a model constructed for ex- 
perimental purposes, and that this model was now with 
Franklin in London ; for we find Boulton requesting 
the latter to " order a porter to nail up the model in the 
box again and take it to the Birmingham carrier at the 
Bell Inn, Smithfield." After a silence of about a month 
Franklin replied, 

"You will, I trust, excuse my so long omitting to answer your 
kind letter, when you consider the excessive hurry and anxiety I 

have been engaged in with our American affairs I know not 

which of the valves to give the preference to, nor whether it is best 
to introduce your jet of cold water above or below. Experiments 
will best decide in such cases. I would only repeat to you the hint 
I gave, of fixing your grate in such a manner as to bum all your 
smoke. I think a great deal of fuel will then be saved, for two 

ties. I would not take this freedom, 
if I were not sure it would be agree- 
able to you ; and that you will thank 
me for adding to the number of those 
who from their knowledge of you 
must respect you, one who is both an 
ingenious philosopher and a most 

worthy honest man. If anything new 
in magnetism or electricity, or any 
other branch of natural knowledge, 
has occurred to your fruitful genius 
since I last had the pleasure of seeing 
you, you will by communicating it 
greatly oblige me?' 


reasons. One, that smoke is fuel, and is wasted when it escapes 
uninflamed. The other, that it forms a sooty crust on the bottom of 
the boiler, which crust not being a good conductor of heat, and pre- 
venting flame and hot air coming into immediate contact with the 
vessel, lessens their effect in giving heat to the water. All that is 
necessary is, to make the smoke of fresh coals pass descending 
through those that are already thoroughly ignited. I sent the 
model last week, with your papers in it, which 1 hope got safe to 
hand." ' 

The model duly arrived at Soho, and we find Boulton 
shortly after occupied in making experiments with it, 
the results of which are duly entered in his note-books. 
Dr. Erasmus Darwin, with whom he was on very inti- 
mate terms, wrote him from Lichfield, inquiring what 
Franklin thought of the model and what suggestions he 
had made for its improvement. " Your model of a steam- 
engine, I am told," said he, " has gained so much appro- 
bation in London, that I cannot but congratulate you 
on the mechanical fame you have acquired by it, which, 
assure yourself, is as great a pleasure to me as it could 
possibly be to yourself." 2 Another letter of Darwin to 
Boulton is preserved, without date, but apparently written 
earlier than the preceding, in which the Doctor lays 
before the mechanical philosopher the scheme of " a fiery 
chariot " which he had conceived, in other words, of a 
locomotive steam-carriage. He proposed to apply an 
engine with a pair of cylinders working alternately, to 
drive the proposed vehicle ; 3 and he sent Boulton some 
rough diagrams illustrative of his views, which he begged 

1 Franklin to Boulton, March 19, 
1766. Boulton MSS. 

2 Darwin to Boulton, March 11, 
1766. Boulton MSS. 

3 The following passage occurs in 
his letter : " Suppose one piston up, 
and the vacuum' made under it by the 
jet d'eau froid. That piston cannot 
yet descend, because the cock is not 
yet opened which admits the steam 
into its antagonist cylinder. Hence 

mosphere. Then, I say, if the cock 
which admits the steam into the 
antagonist cylinder be opened gradu- 
ally and not with a jerk, that the first 
mentioned [piston in the] cylinder 
will descend gradually and yet not 
less forcibly. Hence by the manage- 
ment of the steam cocks the motion 
may be accelerated, retarded, de- 
stroyed, revived, instantly and easily. 
And if this answers in practice as it 

the two pistons are in equilibrio, being | does in theory, the machine cannot 
cither of them pressed by the at- ' fail of success ! Eureka!" 


might be kept a profound secret, as it was his intention, 
if Boulton approved of his plan and would join him as a 
partner, to endeavour to build a model engine, and, if it 
answered, to take out a joint patent for it. But Dr. 
Darwin's scheme was too crude to be capable of being 
embodied in a working model; and nothing more was 
heard of his fiery chariot. 

Another of Boulton's numerous correspondents about 
the same time was Dr. Roebuck, of Kinneil, then occu- 
pied with his enterprise at Carron, and about to engage 
in working the Boroughstoness coal mines, of the results 
of which he was extremely sanguine. He also wished 
Boulton to join him as a partner, offering a tenth share 
in the concern, and to take back the share if the result 
did not answer expectations. But Boulton's hands 
were already full of business nearer home, and he de- 
clined the venture. Roebuck then informed him of the 
invention made by his ingenious friend Watt, and of 
the progress of the model engine. This was a subject- 
calculated to excite the interest of Boulton, himself occu- 
pied in studying the same subject, and he expressed a 
desire to see Watt, if he could make it convenient to 
visit him at Soho. 

It so happened that Watt had occasion to be in London 
in the summer of 1767, on the business connected with 
the Forth and Clyde Canal Bill, and he determined to 
take Soho on his way home. When Watt paid his pro- 
mised visit, Boulton was absent ; but he was shown over 
the works by his friend Dr. Small, who had settled in 
Birmingham as a physician, and already secured a high 
place in Boulton's esteem. Watt was much struck with 
the admirable arrangements of the Soho manufactory, 
and recognised at a glance the admirable power of or- 
ganisation which they displayed. Still plodding wearily 
with his model, and contending with the " villanous bad 
workmanship " of his Glasgow artisans, he could not but 
envy the precision of the Soho tools and the dexterity of 




the Soho workmen. Some conversation on the subject 
must have occurred between him and Small, to whom he 
explained the nature of his invention ; for we find the 
latter shortly after writing Watt, urging him to come to 
Birmingham and join partnership with Boulton and 
himself in the manufacture of steam-engines. 1 Although 
nothing came of this proposal at the time, it had probably 
some effect, when communicated to Dr. Eoebuck, in 
inducing him to close with Watt as a partner, and thus 
anticipate his Birmingham correspondents, of whose 
sagacity he had the highest opinion. 

In the following year Watt visited London on the 
business connected with the engine patent. Small wrote 
to him there, saying, " Get your patent and come to 
Birmingham, with as much time to spend as you can." 
Watt accordingly again took Birmingham on his way 
home. There he saw his future partner for the first 
time, and they at once conceived a hearty liking for 
each other. They had much conversation about the 
engine, and it greatly cheered Watt to find that the sa- 
gacious and practical Birmingham manufacturer should 
augur so favourably of its success as he did. Shortly 
after, when Dr. Eobison visited Soho, Boulton told him 

1 Small wrote Watt from Birming- 
ham, on the 7th January, 1768 : 
" Our friend Boulton will by this 
post send letters both to you and Dr. 
Roebuck. I know not well how to 
resolve without seeing you. I have 
not the pleasure of being enough 
acquainted with Dr. E. to judge 
whether we should all suit one ano- 
ther. His integrity and generosity 
everybody agrees are great. You 
certainly know the proposal he has 
made to Boulton, who will tell you 
his determination about it. Before I 
knew of your connexion with Dr. K. 
my idea was that you should settle 
here, and that Boulton and I should 
assist you as much as we could, which 
in any case we will most certainly do. 
I have no kind of doubt of your 

success, nor of your acquiring fortune, 
if you proceed upon a proper plan as 
to the manner of doing business; 
which, if you do, you will be sole 
possessor of the affair even after your 
patent has expired. I had not tho- 
roughly considered this part of the 
matter when you left me. In a 
partnership that I liked, I should not 
hesitate to employ any sum of money 
I can command on your scheme, and 
I am certain it may be managed with 
only a moderate capital. Whether it 
would be possible to manage the wheel 
and reciprocating engines by separate 
partnerships without their interfering 
I am not certain. If it is, Boulton 
and I would engage with you in 
either, provided you will live here" 
Boulton MSS. 


that although he had begun the construction of his pro- 
posed pumping-engine, he had determined to proceed no 
further with it until he saw what came of Watt and 
Roebuck's scheme. " In erecting my proposed engine," 
said he, "I would necessarily avail myself of what I 
learned from Mr. Watt's conversation ; but this would 
not now be right without his consent." Boulton's con- 
duct in this proceeding was thoroughly characteristic of 
him, and merely affords another illustration of the general 
fairness and honesty with which he acted in all his 
business transactions. 

Watt returned to Glasgow to resume his engine ex- 
periments and to proceed with his canal surveys. He 
kept up a correspondence with Boulton, and advised 
him from time to time of the progress made with his 
model. Towards the end of the year we find him sending 
Boulton a package from Glasgow containing " one dozen 
German flutes at 5s., and a copper digester II. 105." 
He added, " I have almost finished a most complete model 
of my reciprocating-engine : when it is tried, I shall 
advise the success." To Dr. Small he wrote more con- 
fidentially, sending him in January, 1769, a copy of the 
intended specification of his steam-engine. He also spoke 
of his general business : "Our pottery," said he, " is 
doing tolerably, though not as I wish. I am sick of the 
people I have to do with, though not of the business, 
which I expect will turn out a very good one. I have 
a fine scheme for doing it all by fire or water mills, but 
not in this country nor with the present people." 1 Later, 
he wrote : " I have had another three days of fever, from 
which I am not quite recovered. This cursed climate 
and constitution will undo me." Watt must have told 
Small when at Birmingham of the probability of his 
being able to apply his steam-engine to locomotion ; for 
the latter writes him, " I told Dr. Robison and his pupil 

1 Watt to Small, Janiiary 28, 1769. Boulton MJS!S. 


that I hoped soon to travel in a fiery chariot of your 
invention." Later, Small wrote : " A linendraper at 
London, one Moore, has taken out a patent for moving 
wheel-carriages by steam. This comes of thy delays. I 
dare say he has heard of your inventions. . . . Do come 
to England with all possible speed. At this moment, 
how I could scold you for negligence ! However, if you 
will come hither soon, I will promise to be very civil, 
and buy a steam-chaise of you and not of Moore. And 
yet it vexes me abominably to see a man of your superior 
genius neglect to avail himself properly of his great 
talents. These short fevers will do you good." 1 Watt 
replied : " If linendraper Moore does not use my engines 
to drive his chaises, he can't drive them by steam. If 
he does, I will stop them. I suppose by the rapidity 
of his progress and puffing he is too volatile to be dan- 
gerous. . . . You talk to me about coming to England, 
just as if I was an Indian that had nothing to remove 
but my person. Why do we encumber ourselves with 
anything else ? I can't see you before July at soonest, 
unless you come here. If you do I can recommend you 
to a fine sweet girl, who will be anything you want 
her to be if you can make yourself agreeable to her." 
Badinage apart, however, there was one point on which 
Watt earnestly solicited the kind services of his friend. 
He had become more than ever desirous of securing the 
powerful co-operation of Matthew Boulton in introducing 
his invention to public notice : 

" Seriously," says he, " you will oblige me if you will negotiate 
the following affair : I find that if the engine succeeds my whole 
time will be taken up in planning and erecting Reciprocating 
engines, and the Circulator must stand still unless i do what I have 
done too often, neglect certainty for hope. Now, Mr. Boulton wants 
one or more engines for his own use. If he will make a model of 
one of 20 inches diameter at least, I will give him my advice and as 
much assistance as I can. He shall have liberty to erect one of any 

1 Small to Watt, 18th April, 1769. Boulton MSS. 




size for his own use. If lie should choose to have more the terms 
will be easy, and I shall consider myself much obliged to him. If 
it should answer, and he should not think himself repaid for his 
trouble by the use of it, he shall make and use it until he is repaid. 
If this be agreeable to him let me know, and I will propose it to the 
Doctor [Eoebuck], and doubt not of his consent. I wish Mr. Boulton 
and you had entered into some negotiation with the Doctor about 
coming in as partners. I am afraid it is now too late ; for the nearer 
it approaches to certainty, he grows the more tenacious of it. 1 
For my part, I shall continue to think as I did, that it would be for 
our mutual advantage. His expectations are solely from the 
Eeciprocator. Possibly he may be tempted to part with the half of 
the Circulator to you. This I say of myself. Mr. Boulton asked 
if the Circulator was contrived since our agreement. It was ; but 
it is a part of the scheme, and virtually included in it." 2 

From this it will be seen how anxious Watt was 
to engage Boulton in taking an interest in his inven- 
tion. But though the fly was artfully cast over the 
nose of the fish, still he would not rise. The times 
were out of joint, business was stagnant, and Boulton 
was of necessity cautious about venturing upon new 
enterprises. Small doubtless communicated the views 
thus confidentially conveyed to him by Watt; and 
in his next letter he again pressed him to come to 
Birmingham and have a personal interview with 
Boulton as to the engine, adding, "bring this pretty 
girl with you when you come." But, instead of Watt, 
Eoebuck himself went to see Boulton on the subject. 
During the time of this visit, Watt again communicated 
to Small his anxiety that Boulton should join in the 
partnership. " As for myself," said he, " I shall say 
nothing ; but if you three can agree among yourselves, 
you may appoint me what share you please, and you 
will find me willing to do my best to advance the 
good of the whole ; or, if this [the engine] should not 

1 Roebuck was at this time willing 
to admit Boulton as a partner in the 
patent, but only as respected the 
profits of engines sold in the counties 
of Warwick, Stafford, and Derby. 
This Boulton declined, saying, " It 

would not he worth my while to 
make engines for three counties only ; 
but it might be worth my while to 
make for all the world." 

2 Watt to Small, 28th April, 1769. 
Boulton MSS. 


succeed, to do any other thing I can to make you 
all amends, only reserving to myself the liberty of 
grumbling when I am in an ill humour." ] 

Small's reply was discouraging. Both Boulton and 
he had just engaged in another scheme, which would 
require all the ready money at their command. Pos- 
sibly the ill-success of the experiment Watt had by 
this time made with his new model at Kinneil may 
have had some influence in deterring them from en- 
gaging m what still looked a very unpromising specu- 
lation. Watt was greatly cast down at this intelli- 
gence, though he could not blame his friend for the 
caution he displayed in the matter. 2 He nevertheless 
again returned to the subject in his letters to Small ; 
and at last Boulton was persuaded to enter into a con- 
ditional arrangement with Roebuck, which was im- 
mediately communicated to Watt, who received the 
intelligence with great exultation. "I shake hands," 
he wrote to Small, " with you and Mr. Boulton in our 
connexion, which I hope will prove agreeable to us 
all." His joy, however, proved premature, as it 
turned out that the agreement was only to the effect, 
that if Boulton thought proper to exercise the option 
of becoming a partner in the engine to the extent of 
one-third, he was to do so within a period of twelve 
months, paying Roebuck a sum of 1000/. ; but this 
option Boulton never exercised, and the engine enter- 
prise seemed to be as far from success as ever. 

In the mean time Watt became increasingly anxious 

1 Watt to Small, 20th September, pleasure at the expense of your quiet, 
1769. Boulton MSS. which might be the case if you iu- 

2 " I am really very sorry on my own | volved yourself in more business than 
account," he wrote, " that your en- you could easily manage, or, what is 
gagements hinder you from entering worse, find money for. Besides, this 
into our scheme, for that ought to ! is not a trade, but a project ; and no 
bo the result of your deliberation. ; man should risk more money on a 
Though there are few things I have project than he can afford to lose."- 
wished more for than being connected Watt to Small, 21st October, 1769. 
with you on many accounts, yet I ! Boulton MSS. 

should be very loath to purchase that 


about his own position. He had been spending more 
money on fruitless experiments, and getting into more 
debt. The six months he had been living at Kinneil 
had brought him in nothing. He had been neglect- 
ing his business, and could not afford to waste more 
time in prosecuting an apparently hopeless speculation. 
He accordingly returned to his regular work, and 
proceeded with the survey of the river Clyde, at the 
instance of the Glasgow Corporation. " I would not 
have meddled with this," he wrote to Dr. Small, " had 
I been certain of being able to bring the engine to 
bear. But I cannot, on an uncertainty, refuse every 
piece of business that offers. I have refused some 
common fire-engines, because they must have taken 
rny attention so up as to hinder my going on with 
my own. However, if I cannot make it answer soon, 
I shall certainly undertake the next that offers, for I 
cannot afford to trifle away my whole life, which 
God knows may not be long. Not that I think 
myself a proper hand for keeping men to their duty ; 
but I must use my endeavours to make myself square 
with the world, though I much fear I never shall." l 

Small lamented this apparent abandonment of the 
engine to its fate. But though he had failed in in- 
ducing Boulton heartily to join Watt in the enter- 
prise, he did not yet despair. He continued to urge 
Watt to complete his engine, as the fourteen years 
for which the patent lasted would soon be gone. A't 
all events he might send drawings of his engine to 
Soho ; and Mr. Boulton and he would undertake to 
do their best to have one constructed for the purpose 
of exhibiting its powers. 2 To this Watt agreed, and 

1 Watt to Small, 20th September, ! " are very desirous of is, to move canal 
17G9. | boats by this engine; so we have 

2 Small informed Watt that it was made this model of a size sufficient 
intended to make an engine for the j for that purpose. We propose first to 
purpose of drawing canal boats. | operate without any condenser, because 
" What Mr. Boulton and I," he wrote, i coals are here exceedingly cheap, and 




about the beginning of 1770, the necessary drawings 
were sent to Soho, and an engine was immediately 
put in course of execution. Patterns were made and 
sent to Coalbrookdale to be cast ; but when the castings 
were received, they were found exceedingly imperfect, 
and were thrown aside as useless. They were then 
sent to an ironfounder at Bilston to be executed ; but 
the result was only another failure. 

About the beginning of 1770, another unsuccessful 
experiment was made by Watt and Roebuck with 
the engine at Kinneil. The cylinder had been repaired 
and made true by beating, but as the metal of which 
it was made was soft, it was feared that the working 
of the piston might throw it out of form. To prevent 
this, two firm parallel planes were fixed, through which 
the piston worked, in order to prevent its vibration. 
" If this should fail," Eoebuck wrote to Boulton, in 
giving an account of the intended trial, " then the 
cylinder must be made of cast-iron. But I have great 
confidence that the present engine will work completely, 
and by this day se'nnight you may expect to hear the 
result of our experiments." * The good news, however, 
never went to Birmingham ; on the contrary, the 
trial proved a failure. There was some more tinkering 

because you can, more commodiously 
than we, make experiments on con- 
densers, having several already by 
you. Above 150 boats are now em- 
ployed on these new waveless canals, 
so if we can succeed, the field is not 
narrow." This suggestion of working 
canal boats by steam immediately 
elicited a reply from Watt on the 
subject. Invention was so habitual 
to him that a new method of em- 
ploying power was no sooner hinted 
than his active mind at once set to 
work to solve the problem. " Have 
you ever," he wrote Small, " con- 
sidered a spiral oar for that purpose, 
or are you for two wheels ?" And to 
make his meaning clear, he sketched 

out a rough but graphic outline of a 
screw propeller. Small's reply was 
unfavourable : he replied, " I have 
tried models of spiral oars, and have 
found them all inferior to oars of either 
of the other forms ; I believe because 
a cylinder of water immersed in water 
can be easily turned round its own 
axis. We propose to try gun-lock 
springs with the fixed part longer 
than the moving. If we cannot suc- 
ceed, we will have recourse to what 
you have so obligingly and clearly 
described." Finally Watt writes a 
fortnight later, " concerning spirals, I 
do not continue fond of them." 

1 Roebuck to Boulton, February 
12, 1770. 


at the engine, but it would not work satisfactorily ; and 
Watt went back to Glasgow with a heavy heart. 

Small again endeavoured to induce Watt to visit 
Birmingham, to superintend the erection of the engine, 
the materials for which were now lying at Soho. He 
also held out to Watt the hope of obtaining some 
employment for him in the midland counties as a 
consulting engineer. But Watt could not afford to 
lose more time in erecting trial-engines ; and he was 
too much occupied at Glasgow to leave it for the 
proposed uncertainty at Birmingham. He accordingly 
declined the visit, but invited Small to continue the 
correspondence ; " for," said he, " we have abundance 
of matters to discuss, though the damned engine 
sleep in quiet." Small wrote back, professing him- 
self satisfied that Watt was so fully employed in his 
own profession at Glasgow. " Let nothing," he said, 
" divert you from the business of engineering. You 
are sensible that both Boulton and I engaged in the 
patent scheme much more from inclination to be in 
some degree useful to you than from any other prin- 
ciple ; so that if you are prosperous and happy, we do 
not care whether you find the scheme worth prose- 
cuting or not." L Eeplying to Small's complaint of 
himself, that he felt ennuye and stupid, taking pleasure 
in nothing but sleep, Watt said : " You complain of 
physic ; I find it sufficiently stupifying to be obliged 
to think on any subject but one's hobby ; and I really 
am become monstrously stupid, and can seldom think 
at all. I wish to God I could afford to live without 
it; though I don't admire your sleeping scheme. I 
must fatigue myself, otherwise I can neither eat nor 
sleep. In short, I greatly doubt whether the silent 
mansion of the grave be not the happiest abode. I am 
cured of most of my youthful desires, and if ambition 

Small to Watt, 17th September, 1770. Bonlton MSS. 





or avarice do not lay hold of me, I shall be almost 
as much ennuye as you say you are." ] 

Small again recurred to the subject of Watt's removal 
to Birmingham, informing him that he had provided 
accommodation for him, " having kept a whole house 
in my power, in hopes you may come to live here." 

Watt's prospects were, however, brightening. He 
was then busily occupied in superintending the con- 
struction of the Monkland Canal. He wrote Small 
that he had a hundred men working under him, who 
had "made a confounded gash in a hill," at which 
they had been working for twelve months ; that by 
frugal living he had contrived to save money enough 
to pay his debts, and that he had plenty of remunerative 
work before him. He had also become concerned in 
a pottery, which, he said, " does very well, though we 
make monstrous bad ware." ' He had not, indeed, got 
rid of his headaches, though he was not so much 
afflicted by low spirits as he had been. But he con- 
fessed that after all he hated the business of engineer- 
ing, and wished himself well rid of it, for the reasons 
stated in a preceding chapter. 

This comparatively prosperous state of Watt's affairs 
did not, however, last long. The commercial panic 
of 1772 put a sudden stop to most of the canal schemes 
then on foot. The proprietors of the Monkland Canal 
could not find the necessary means for carrying on the 
works, and Watt consequently lost his employment 
as their engineer. He was thus again thrown upon 
the world, and where was he to look for help ? Natu- 
rally enough, he reverted to his engine. But it was 
in the hands of Dr. Eoebuck, who was overwhelmed 
with debt, and upon the verge of insolvency. It 

1 Watt to Small, 20th October, 
1770. Boulton MSS. 

2 He then held an eighth share in the 

pottery, which brought him in about 
701. a year clear. 


was clear that no help was to be looked for in that 
quarter. Again he bethought him of Small's invi- 
tations to Birmingham, and of the interest that Boulton 
had taken in the engine scheme. Could he be induced 
at last to become a partner ? He again broached the 
subject to Small, telling him how business" had failed 
him ; fliat he was now ready to go to Birmingham 
and engage in English surveys, or do anything that 
would bring him in an honest income. But, above all, 
would Boulton and Small, now that Eoebuck had failed, 
join him as partners in the engine business ? 

By this time Boulton himself had become involved 
in difficulties arising out of the commercial pressure of 
the time, and was more averse than ever to enter 
upon such an enterprise. But having ]ent Roebuck a 
considerable sum of money, it occurred to Watt that 
the amount might be taken as part of the price of 
Boulton's share in the patent, if he would consent to 
enter into the proposed partnership. He represented 
to Small the great distress of Roebuck's situation, which 
he had done all that he could to relieve. " What little I 
can do for him," he said, "is purchased by denying 
myself the conveniences of life my station requires, 
or by remaining in debt, which it galls me to the bone 
to owe." Reverting to the idea of a partnership with 
Boulton, he added, " I shall be content to hold a very 
small share in it, or none at all, provided I am to be 
freed from my pecuniary obligations to Roebuck, and 
have any kind of recompense for even a part of the 
anxiety and ruin it has involved me in." And again : 
" Although I am out of pocket a much greater sum 
upon these experiments than my proportion of the 
profits of the engine, I do not look upon that money 
as the price of my share, but as money spent on my 
education. I thank God I have now reason to believe 
that I can never, while I have health, be at any loss 

o 2 




to pay what I owe, and to live at least in a decent 
manner ; more, I do not violently desire." * 

In a subsequent letter Watt promised Small that he 
would pay an early visit to Birmingham, and added, " there 
is nowhere I so much wish to be." In replying, Small 
pointed ouf a difficulty in the way of the proposed part- 
nership : "It is impossible," he wrote, " for Mr. Boulton 
and me, or any other honest man, to purchase, espe- 
cially from two particular friends, what has no market 
price, and at a time when they might be inclined to 
part with the commodity at an under value." 2 He 
added that the high-pressure wheel-engine constructing 
at Soho, after Watt's plans, was nearly ready, and that 
Wilkinson, of Bradley, had promised that the boiler 
should be sent next week. " Should the experiment 
succeed, or seern likely to succeed," he said, " you ought 
to come hither immediately upon receiving the notice, 
which I will instantly send. In that case we propose to 
unite three things under your direction, which would 
altogether, we hope, prove tolerably satisfactory to you, 
at least until your merit shall be better known." 3 

But before the experiment with the wheel-engine 
could be tried at Soho, the financial ruin of Dr. Eoebuck 
brought matters to a crisis. He was now in the hands 

1 Watt to Small, 30th. August, 
1772. Boulton MSS. 

2 Small to Watt, 16th November, 
1772. Boulton MSS. 

3 About this time, in order to bring 
himself and his engine into notice, 
Watt contemplated writing a treatise 
on steam and its applications. " I 
have some thoughts," he wrote to 
Small, " of writing a book on the 
elements of the theory of steam- 
engines, in which, however, I shall 
only give the enunciation of the 
perfect engine. This book might do 
me and the scheme good. It would 
still leave the world in the dark as to 
the true construction of the engine. 
Something of this kind is necessary, 
as Smeaton is labouring hard at the 

subject, and if I can make no profit, 
at least I ought not to lose the honour 
of my experiments." Watt to Small, 
17th August, 1773. Boulton MSS. 
To this letter Small replied, " The 
more I consider the propriety of your 
publishing about steam, the more I 
wish you to publish. Smeaton has 
only trifled hitherto, though he may 
perhaps discover something. He told 
Boulton some time ago that the cir- 
cular engine would not do. He said 
he had considered it, and was sure of 
this. As B. does not much respect 
his genius, this had no effect." Watt's 
treatise was, however, never written ; 
his attention being shortly after fully 
occupied by other and more engrossing 




of his creditors, who found his affairs in inextricable 
confusion. He owed some 1200/. to Boulton, who, rather 
than claim against the estate, offered to take Eoebuck's 
two-thirds share in the engine patent in lieu of the 
debt. The creditors did not value the engine as worth 
one farthing, and were but too glad to agree to the 
proposal. As Watt himself said, it was only " paying 
one bad debt with another." Boulton wrote to Watt 
requesting him to act as his attorney in the matter. He 
confessed that he was by no means sanguine as to the 
success of the engine, but, being an assayer, he was 
willing " to assay it and try how much gold it contains." 
" The thing," he added, " is now a shadow ; 'tis merely 
ideal, and will cost time and money to realise it. We 
have made no experiment yet that answers my purpose, 
and the times are so horrible throughout the mercantile 
part of Europe, that I have not had my thoughts suffi- 
ciently disengaged to think of new schemes." l 

So soon as the arrangement for the transfer of Roe- 
buck's share to Boulton was concluded, Watt ordered 
the engine in the outhouse at Kinneil to be taken to 
pieces, packed up, and sent to Birmingham. 2 Small 
again pressed him to come and superintend the work 
in person. But before he could leave Scotland it was 
necessary that he should complete the survey of the 
Caledonian Canal, which was still unfinished. This 
done, he promised at once to set out for Soho. In any 
case, he had made up his mind to leave his own country, 
of which he declared himself " heart-sick." 3 He hated 

1 Boulton to Watt, 29th March, 
1773. Boulton MSS. 

2 " As 1 found the engine at Kinneil 
perishing, and as it is from circum- 
stances highly improper that it should 
continue there longer, and as 1 have 
nowhere else to put it, I have this 
week taken it to pieces and packed up 
the ironwork, cylinder, and pump, 
ready to be shipped for London on its 
way to Birmingham, as the only place 

where the experiments can be com- 
pleted with propriety. I suppose the 
whole will not weigh above four tons. 
I have left the whole of the wood- 
work until we see what we are to do." 
Watt to Small, 20th May, 1773. 
Boulton MSS. 

3 In a letter to Small, Watt wrote, 
" I begin now to see daylight through 
the affairs that have detained me so 
long, and think of setting out for you 




its harsh climate, so trying to his fragile constitution. 
Moreover, he disliked the people he had to deal with. 
He was also badly paid for his work, a whole year's 
surveying having brought him in only about 200/. 
Out of this he had paid some portion to Dr. Roebuck to 
help him in his necessity, " so that," he said, " I can 
barely support myself and keep untouched the small 
sum I have allotted for my visit to you." ] 

Watt's intention was either to try to find employ- 
ment as a surveyor or engineer in England, or obtain 
a situation of some kind abroad. He was, however, 
naturally desirous of ascertaining whether it was yet 
possible to do anything with the materials which now 
lay at Soho ; and with the object of visiting his friends 
there and superintending the erection of the trial- 
engine, he at length made his final arrangements to 
leave Glasgow. We find him arrived in Birmingham 
in May, 1774, where he at once entered on a new and 
important phase of his professional career. 

in a fortnight at furthest. I am 
monstrously plagued with my head- 
aches, and not a little with unpro- 
fitable business. I don't mean my 
own whims : these I never work at 
when I can do any other thing ; but I 
have got too many acquaintances ; and 
there are too many beggars in this 
country, which I am afraid is going to 
the devil altogether. Provisions con- 
tinue excessively dear, and laws are 
made to keep them so. But luckily 

the spirit of emigrating rises high, 
and the people seem disposed to show 
their oppressive masters that they can 
live without them. By the time 
some twenty or thirty thousand more 
leave the country, matters will take a 
turn not much to the profit of the 
landholders." Watt to Small, 29th 
April, 1774. Boulton MSS. 

1 Watt to Small, 25th July, f?73. 
Boulton MSS. 




WATT had now been occupied for about nine years in 
working out the details of his invention. Five of these 
had passed since he had taken out his patent, and he 
was still struggling with difficulty. Several thousand 
pounds had been expended on the engine, besides much 
study, labour, and ingenuity ; yet it was still, as Boul- 
ton expressed it, "a shadow, as regarded its practical 
utility and value." So long as Watt's connexion with 
Roebuck continued, there was indeed very little chance 
of getting it favourably introduced to public notice. 
What it was yet to become as a working power de- 
pended in no small degree upon the business ability, 
the strength of purpose, and the length of purse of his 
new partner. 

Had Watt searched Europe through, probably he 
could not have found a man better fitted than Matthew 
Boulton for bringing his invention fairly before the 
world. Many would have thought it rash on the part 
of the latter, burdened as he was with heavy liabilities, 
to engage in a new. undertaking of so speculative a 
character. Feasible though the scheme might be, it 
was an admitted fact that nearly all the experiments 
with the models heretofore made had proved failures. 
It is true Watt firmly believed that he had hit upon 
the right principle, and he was as sanguine as ever of 
the eventual success of his engine. But though in- 
ventors are usually sanguine, men of capital do not 
take up their schemes on that account. Capitalists are 
rather disposed to regard sanguine inventors as vision- 


aries, full of theories of what is possible rather than of 
well-defined plans of what is practicable and useful. 

Boulton, however, amongst his many other gifts pos- 
sessed an admirable knowledge of character. His judg- 
ment of men was almost unerring. In Watt he had 
recognised at his first visit to Soho, not only a man 
of original inventive genius, but a plodding, earnest, 
intent, and withal an exceedingly modest man ; not given 
to puff, but on the contrary rather disposed to under- 
rate the merit of his inventions. Different though their 
characters were in most respects, Boulton at once con- 
ceived a hearty liking for him. The one displayed in 
perfection precisely those qualities which the other 
wanted. Boulton was a man of ardent and generous 
temperament, bold and enterprising, undaunted by diffi- 
culty, and possessing an almost boundless capacity for 
work. He was a man of great tact, clear perception, 
and sound judgment. Moreover, he possessed that 
indispensable quality of perseverance, without which 
the best talents are of comparatively little avail in the 
conduct of important affairs. While Watt hated busi- 
ness, Boulton loved it. He had, indeed, a genius for 
business, -a gift almost as rare as that for poetry, for 
art, or for war. He possessed a marvellous power of or- 
ganisation. With a keen eye for details he combined a 
comprehensive grasp of intellect. While his senses were 
so acute, that when sitting in his office at Soho he could 
detect the slightest stoppage or derangement in the 
machinery of that vast establishment, and send his mes- 
sage direct to the spot where it had occurred, his 
power of imagination was such as enabled him to look 
clearly along extensive lines of possible action in Europe, 
America, and the East. For there is a poetic as well 
as a commonplace side to business ; and the man of 
business genius lights up the humdrum routine of daily 
life by exploring the boundless region of possibility 
wherever it may lie open before him. 




Boulton had already won his way to the very front 
rank in his calling, honestly and honourably ; and he 
was proud of it. He had created many new branches 
of industry, which gave regular employment to hundreds 
of families. He had erected and organised a manufactory 
which was looked upon as one of the most complete of 
its kind in England, and was resorted to by visitors from 
all parts of the world. But Boulton was more than a 
man of business : he was a man of culture, and the friend 
of cultivated men. His hospitable mansion at Soho was 
the resort of persons eminent in art, in literature, and 
in science ; and the love and admiration with which 
he inspired such men affords one of the best proofs 
of his own elevation of character. Among the most 
' intimate of his friends and associates were Richard Lovell 
Edge worth, 1 a gentleman of fortune, enthusiastically 
devoted to his long-conceived design of moving land- 
carriages by steam ; Captain Keir, an excellent practical 
chemist, a wit and a man of learning; Dr. Small, the 
accomplished physician, chemist, and mechanist ; Josiah 
Wedgwood, the practical philosopher and manufacturer, 
founder of a new and important branch of skilled 
industry ; Thomas Day, the ingenious author of ' Sand- 
ford and Merton ; ' Dr. Darwin, the poet-physician ; Dr. 
Withering, the botanist ; besides others who afterwards 
joined the Soho circle, not the least distinguished of 
whom were Joseph Priestley and James Watt. 2 

1 Mr. Edgeworth. was first intro- 
duced to the notice of Mr. Boulton in 
the following letter from Dr. Darwin 
(1767) : " Dear Boulton, I have got 
with me a mechanical friend, Mr. 
Edgeworth, from Oxfordshire, the 
greatest conjurer I ever saw. God 
send fine weather, and pray come to 
my assistance, and prevail on Dr. 
Small and Mrs. Boulton to attend you 
to-morrow morning, and we will re- 
convey you to Birmingham if the 
devil permit. E. has the principles 
of nature in his palm, and moulds 

them as he pleases, can take away 
polarity, or give it to the needle by 
rubbing it thrice on the palm of his 
hand! And can see through two 
solid oak boards without glasses ! Won- 
derful ! astonishing ! ! diabolical ! ! ! 
Pray tell Dr. Small he must come to 
see these miracles. Adieu, E. Darwin." 
2 Kichard Lovell Edgeworth says of 
this distinguished coterie, " By means 
of Mr. Keir I became acquainted with 
Dr. Small of Birmingham, a man 
esteemed by all who knew him, and 
by all who were admitted to his 




Boulton could not have been very sanguine at first 
as to the success of Watt's engine. There were a thou- 
sand difficulties in the way of getting it introduced 
to general use. The principal one was the difficulty of 
finding workmen capable of making it. Watt had 
been constantly worried by "villanous bad workmen," 
who failed to make any model that would go properly. 
It mattered not that the principle of the engine was 
right; if its construction was beyond the skill of 
ordinary handicraftsmen, the invention was practically 
worthless. The great Smeaton was of this opinion. 
When he saw the first model working at Soho, he ad- 
mitted the excellence of the contrivance, but predicted 
its failure, on the ground that it was too complicated, 
and that workmen were not to be found capable of' 
manufacturing it on any large scale for general uses. 

Watt himself felt that, if the engine was ever to 
have a fair chance, it was now ; and that if Boulton, 
with his staff of skilled workmen at command, could 
not make it go, the scheme must be abandoned hence- 
forward as impracticable. Boulton must, however, have 
seen the elements of success in the invention, otherwise 
he would not have taken up with it. He knew the 
difficulties Watt had encountered in designing it, and 
he could well appreciate the skill with which he had 
overcome them ; for Boulton himself, as we have seen, 

friendship beloved with, no common 
enthusiasm. Dr. Small formed a link 
which combined Mr. Boulton, Mr. 
Watt, Dr. Darwin, Mr. Wedgwood, 
Mr. Day, and myself together men 
of very different characters, but all 
devoted to literature and science. 
This mutual intimacy has never been 
broken but by death, nor have any of 
the number failed to distinguish them- 
selves in science or literature. Some 
may think that I ought with due 
modesty to except myself. Mr. Keir 
with his knowledge of the world and 
good sense ; Dr. Small, with his bene- 
volence and profound sagacity ; Wedg- 

wood, with his increasing industry, 
experimental variety, and calm inves- 
tigation ; Boulton, with his mobility, 
quick perception, and bold adventure; 
Watt, with his strong inventive 
faculty, undeviating steadiness, and 
bold resources ; Darwin, with his ima- 
gination, science, and poetical excel- 
lence; and Day, with his unwearied 
research after truth, his integrity and 
eloquence ; proved altogether such a 
society as few men have had the good 
fortune to live with ; such an assem- 
blage of friends, as fewer still have 
had the happiness to possess, and keep 
through life." Memoirs, i. 186. 


had for some time been occupied with the study of the 
subject. But the views of Boulton on entering into his 
new branch of business, cannot be better expressed than 
in his own words, as stated in a letter written by him 
to Watt in 1769, when then invited to join the Roebuck 
partnership : 

" The plan proposed to me," 1 said he, " is so very different from 
that which I had conceived at the time I talked with you upon the 
subject, that I cannot think it a proper one for me to meddle with, 
as I do not intend turning engineer. I was excited by two motives 
to offer you my assistance which were, love of you, and love of a 
money- getting ingenious project. I presumed that your engine 
would require money, very accurate workmanship, and extensive 
correspondence, to make it turn out to the best advantage ; and that 
the best means of keeping up our reputation and doing the invention 
justice, would be to keep the executive part out of the hands of the 
multitude of empirical engineers, who, from ignorance, want of 
experience, and want of necessary convenience, would be very liable 
to produce bad and inaccurate workmanship ; all which deficiencies 
would affect the reputation of the invention. To remedy which, and 
to produce the most profit, my idea was to settle a manufactory near 
iny own, by the side of our canal, where I would erect all the con- 
veniences necessary for the completion of engines, and from which 
manufactory we would serve the world with engines of all sizes. 
By these means and your assistance we could engage and instruct 
some excellent workmen, who (with more excellent tools than would 
be worth any man's while to procure for one single engine) could 
execute the invention 20 per cent, cheaper than it would be 
otherwise executed, and with as great a difference of accuracy as 
there is between the blacksmith and the mathematical instrument 

He went on to state that he was willing to enter 
upon the speculation with these views, considering 
it well worth his while "to make engines for all 
the world," though it would not be worth his while 
" to make for three counties only ;" besides, he declared 
himself averse to embark in any trade that he had not 
the inspection of himself. He concluded by saying, 

1 Dr. lioebuck proposed to confine 
I'M Hilton's profits to the engine busi- 
ness done onlv in three counties, it 

will be observed that Boulton declined 
to negotiate on such a basis. 




" Although there seem to be some obstructions to our 
partnership in the engine trade, yet I live in hopes that 
you or I may hit upon some scheme or other that may 
associate us in this part of the world, which would 
render it still more agreeable to me than it is, by the 
acquisition of such a neighbour." l 

Five years had passed since this letter was written, 
during which the engine had made no way in the 
world. The partnership of Roebuck and Watt had 
yielded nothing but vexation and debt ; until at last, 
fortunately for Watt though at the time he regarded 
it as a terrible calamity Roebuck broke down, and 
the obstruction was removed which had prevented 
Watt and Boulton from coming together. The latter 
at once reverted to the plan of action which he had 
with so much sagacity laid down in 1769 ; and he 
invited Watt to take up his abode at Soho until the 
necessary preliminary arrangements could be made. 
He thought it desirable, in the first place, to erect 
the engine, of which the several parts had been sent 
to Soho from Kinneil, in order, if possible, to exhibit 
a specimen of the invention in actual work. Boulton 
undertook to defray all the necessary expenses, and 
to find competent workmen to carry out the instruc- 
tions of Watt, whom Boulton was also to maintain 
until the engine business had become productive. 2 

1 Boulton to Watt, 7th Februarv, 
1769. Boulton MSS. 

2 In a statement prepared by Mr. 
Boulton for the consideration of the 
arbitrators between himself and 
Pothergill as to the affairs of that 
firm, the following passage occurs : 
" The first engine that was erected at 
Soho I purchased of Mr. Watt and 
Dr. Roebuck. The cylinder was cast 
of solid grain tin, which engine, with 
the boiler, the valves, the condense]-, 
and the pumps, were all sent from 
Scotland to Soho. This engine was 
erected for the use of the Soho manu- 
factory, and for the purpose of making 

experiments upon by Mr. Watt, who 
occupied two years of his time at Soho 
with that object : and lived there at 
Mr. Boulton's expense. Nevertheless 
Mr. Watt often assisted Boulton and 
Fothergill in anything in his power, 
and made one journey to London upon 
their business, when he worked at 
adjusting and marking weights manu- 
factured by Boulton and Fothergill." 
In another statement of a similar 
kind, Mr. Boulton says, " The only 
fire-engine that was erected at Soho 
prior to Boulton and Watt obtaining 
the Act of Parliament, was entirely 
made and erected in Scotland, and was 


The materials brought from Kinneil were accord- 
ingly put together with as little delay as possible ; 
and, thanks to the greater skill of the workmen who 
assisted in its erection, the engine, when finished, 
worked in a more satisfactory manner than it had 
ever done before. In November, 1774, Watt wrote Dr. 
Eoebuck, informing him of the success of his trials; 
on which the Dr. expressed his surprise that the 
engine should have worked at all, " considering the 
slightness of the materials and its long exposure to the 
injuries of the weather." Watt also wrote to his 
father at Grreenock. " The business I am here about 
has turned out rather successful ; that is to say, the 
fire-engine I have invented is now going, and answers 
much better than any other that has yet been made ; 
and I expect that the invention will be very beneficial 
to me." ] Such was Watt's modest announcement of 
the successful working of the engine on which such 
great results depended. 

Much, however, remained to be done before either 
Watt or Boulton could reap any benefit from the 
invention. Six years out of the fourteen for which the 
patent was originally taken had already expired ; and 
all that had been accomplished was the erection of this 
experimental engine at Soho. What further period 
might elapse before capitalists could be brought to recog- 
nise the practical uses of the invention could only be 
guessed at ; but the probability was that the patent right 
would expire long before such a demand for the engines 
arose as should remunerate Boulton and Watt for their 
investment of time, labour, and capital. And the patent 
once expired, the world at large would be free to make 
the engines, though Watt himself had not recovered 

removed here by sea, being a part of i expense of erecting them." Boulton 
my bargain with Roebuck. All that MSS. 

were afterwards erected were for per- 
sons that ordered them, and were at the 

1 Quoted in Muirhead's ' Mechanical 
Inventions of James Watt,' ii. 79. 


one farthing towards repaying him for the long years 
of experiment, study, and ingenuity bestowed by him in 
bringing his invention to perfection. These considera- 
tions made Boultoii hesitate before launching out the 
money necessary to provide the tools, machinery, and 
buildings, for carrying on the intended manufacture on 
a large scale and in the best style. 

When it became known that Boulton had taken an 
interest in a new engine for pumping water, he had 
many inquiries about it from the mining districts. The 
need of a more effective engine than any then in use 
was every year becoming more urgent. The powers of 
Newcomen's engine had been tried to the utmost. So long 
as the surface-lodes were worked, its power was suffi- 
cient to clear the mines of water ; but as they were carried 
deeper, it was found totally inadequate for the work, 
and many mines were consequently becoming gradually 
drowned out and abandoned. The excessive consump- 
tion of coals by the Newcomen engines was another 
serious objection to their use, especially in districts such 
as Cornwall, where coal was very dear. When Small 
was urging Watt to come to Birmingham arid make 
engines, he wrote : "A friend of Boul ton's, in Cornwall, 
sent us word a few days ago that four or five copper- 
mines are just going to be abandoned because of the 
high price of coals, and begs us to apply to them instantly. 
The York Buildings Company delay rebuilding their 
engine, with great inconvenience to themselves, waiting 
for yours. Yesterday application was made to me by a 
Mining Company in Derbyshire to know when you are 
to be in England about the engines, because they must 
quit their mine if you cannot relieve them." The neces- 
sity for an improved pumping power had set many 
inventors to work besides Watt, and some of the less 
scrupulous of them were already trying to adopt his 
principle in such a way as to evade his patent. Moore, 
the London lineiidraper, and Hatley, one of Watt's 


Carron workmen, had brought out and were pushing- 
engines similar to Watt's ; the latter having stolen and 
sold for a considerable sum working drawings of the 
Kinneil engine. 

From these signs Boulton saw that, in the event of 
the engine proving successful, he and his partner would 
have to defend the invention against a host of pirates ; 
and he became persuaded that he would not be justified 
in risking his capital in the establishment of a steam- 
engine manufactory unless a considerable extension of 
the patent-right could be secured. To ascertain whether 
this was practicable, Watt proceeded to London in the 
beginning of 1775, to confer with his patent agent and 
take the opinion of counsel on the subject. Mr. Wed- 
derburn, who was advised with, recommended that the 
existing patent should be surrendered, and in that case 
he did not doubt that a new one would be granted. 
While in London, Watt looked out for possible orders for 
his engine : " I have," he wrote Boulton, " a prospect of 
two orders for fire-engines here, one to water Piccadilly, 
and the other to serve the south end of Blackfriars 
Bridge with water. I have taken advice of several 
people whom I could trust about the patent. They all 
agree that an Act would be much better and cheaper, a 
patent being now 130/., the Act, if obtainable, 110/. 
The present patent has eight years still to run, bearing 
date January, 1769. I understand there will be an 
almost unlimited sale for wheel-engines to the West 
Indies, at the rate of 100/. for each horse's power." l 

Watt also occupied some of his time in London in 
superintending the adjustment of weights manufactured 
by Boulton and Fothergill, then sold in considerable 
quantities through their London agent. That he con- 
tinued to take an interest in his old business of mathe- 
matical instrument making is apparent from the visits 

Watt to Boulton, 31st January, 1775. JVmlton MSS. 


which he made to several well-known shops. One of 
the articles which he examined with most interest was 
Short's Gregorian telescope. At other times, by Boulton's 
request, he went to see the few steam-engines then at 
work in London and the neighbourhood, and make 
inquiries as to their performances. With that object he 
examined the engines at the New River, Hungerford, 
and Chelsea. At the latter place, he said, " it was im- 
possible to try the quantity of injection, and the fellow 
told me lies about the height of the column of water." 
But Watt soon grew tired of London, " running from 
street to street all day about gilding," inquiring after 
metal-rollers, silver-platers, and button-makers. He did 
his best, however, to execute the commissions which 
Boulton from time to time sent him ; and when these 
were executed, he returned to Birmingham to confer 
with his friends as to the steps to be taken with respect 
to the patent. The result of his conferences with Boulton 
and Small was, that it was determined to take steps to 
apply for an Act for its extension in the ensuing session 
of Parliament. 

Watt went up to London a second time for the pur- 
pose of having the Bill drawn. He had scarcely arrived 
there when the sad intelligence reached him of the 
death of Dr. Small. He had long been ailing, yet 
the event was a shock alike to himself and Boulton. 
The latter wrote Watt in the bitterness of his grief, " If 
there were not a few other objects yet remaining for 
me to settle my affections upon, I should wish also to 
take up my abode in the mansions of the dead." Watt 
replied, reminding him of the sentiments of their departed 
friend, as to the impropriety of indulging in unavailing 
sorrow, the best refuge from which was the more sedu- 
lous performance of duty. " Come, my dear sir," said 
he, " and immerse yourself in this sea of business as 
soon as possible. Pay a proper respect to your friend by 
obeying his precepts. I wait for you with impatience, 


and assure yourself no endeavour of mine shall be want- 
ing to render life agreeable to you." 

It had been intended to include Small in the steam- 
engine partnership on the renewal of the patent. He 
had been consulted in all the stages of the proceedings, 
and one of the last things he did was to draw up Watt's 
petition for the Bill. No settled arrangement had yet 
been made not even between Boulton and Watt. Every- 
thing depended upon the success of the application for 
the extension of the patent. 

Meanwhile, through the recommendation of his old 
friend Dr. Eobison, then in Russia officiating as Mathe- 
matical Professor at the Government Naval School at 
Cronstadt, Watt was offered an appointment under 
the Russian Government, at a salary of about 1000/. 
a year. He was thus presented with a means of escape 
from his dependence upon Boulton, and for the first 
time in his life had the prospect before him of an 
income that to him would have been affluence. But he 
entertained strong objections to settling in Russia : he 
objected to its climate, its comparative barbarism, and, 
notwithstanding the society of his friend Robison, to 
the limited social resources of St. Petersburg. Besides, 
Boulton's favours were so gracefully conferred, that the 
dependence on him was not felt ; for he made the reci- 
pient of his favours feel as if the obligation were entirely 
on the side of the giver. " Your going to Russia staggers 
me," he wrote to Watt; "the precariousness of your 
health, the dangers of so long a journey or voyage, and 
my own deprivation of consolation, render me a little 
uncomfortable ; but I wish to assist and advise you for 
the best, without regard to self." The result was, that 
Watt determined to wait the issue of the application for 
the extension of his patent. 

The Bill was introduced to Parliament on the 28th of 
February, 1775, and it was obvious from the first that 
it would have considerable opposition to encounter. The 


mining interest had looked forward to Watt's invention 
as a means of helping them out of their difficulties and 
giving a new value to their property by clearing the 
drowned mines of water. They therefore desired to 
have the free use of the engine at the earliest possible 
period ; and when it was proposed to extend the patent 
by Act of Parliament, they set up with one accord the 
cry of " No monopoly." Up to the present time, as we 
have seen, the invention had been productive to Watt of 
nothing but loss, labour, anxiety, and headaches ; and it 
was only just that a reasonable period should be allowed 
to enable him to derive some advantage from the results 
of his application and ingenuity. But the mining 
interest took a different view of the matter. They 
did not see the necessity of recognising the rights of the 
inventor beyond the term of his existing patent, and 
they held that the public interests would suffer if the pro- 
posed " monopoly " were granted. Nor were they without 
supporters in Parliament, for among the most strenuous 
we find the name of Edmund Burke, influenced, it is 
supposed, by certain mining interests in the neighbour- 
hood of Bristol, which city he then represented. 

There is no doubt that the public would have benefited 
by Watt's invention having been made free to all. But 
it was not for the public merely that Watt had been 
working at his engine for fifteen long years. He 
was a man of comparatively small means, and had 
been buoyed up and stimulated to renewed exertion 
during that time by the hope of ultimate reward in 
the event of its success. If labour could give a man 
a title to property in his invention, Watt's claim was 
clear. The condensing-engine had been the product df 
his own skill, contrivance, and brain-work. But there 
has always been a difficulty in getting the claims of 
mere brain-work recognised. Had he expended his 
labour in building a house instead of in contriving a 
machine, his right of property would at once have been 


acknowledged. As it was, he had to contend for justice 
and persuade the legislature of the reasonableness of 
granting his application for an extension of the patent. 
In the " Case " which he drew up for distribution amongst 
the members of the Lower House, on the motion being 
carried for the recommittal of the Bill, he set forth that 
having, after great labour and expense extending over 
many years, succeeded in completing working engines 
of each of the two kinds he had invented, he found that 
they could not be carried into profitable execution without 
the further expenditure of large sums of money in 
erecting mills, and purchasing the various materials 
and utensils necessary for making them ; and from the 
reluctance with which the public generally adopt new 
inventions, he was afraid that the whole term granted 
by his patent would expire before the engines should 
have come into general use and any portion of his 
expenses be repaid : 

"The inventor of these new engines," said he, "is sorry that 
gentlemen of knowledge, and avowed admirers of his invention, 
should oppose the Bill by putting it in the light of a monopoly. 
He never had any intention of circumscribing or claiming the 
inventions of others; and the Bill is now drawn up in such a 
manner as sufficiently guards those rights, and must oblige him 
to prove his own right to every part of his invention which may at 
any time be disputed. ... If the invention be valuable, it has been 
made so by his industry, and at his expense ; he has struggled with 
bad health, and many other inconveniences, to bring it to perfection, 
and all he wishes is to be secured in the profits which he may 
reasonably expect from it, profits which he cannot obtain without an 
exertion of his abilities to bring it into practice, by which the public 
must be the greatest gainers, and which are limited by the per- 
formance of the common engines ; for he cannot expect that any 
person will make use of his contrivance, unless he can prove to them 
that savings will take place, and that his demand for the privilege 
of using the invention will amount only to a reasonable part of 
them. Xo man will lay aside a known engine, and stop his work 
to erect one of a new contrivance, unless he is certain to be a very 
great gainer by the exchange ; and if any contrivance shall so 
far excel others as to enforce the use of it, it is reasonable that the 
author of such a contrivance should be rewarded." 

p 2 




These weighty arguments could not fail to produce 
an impression on the minds of all reasonable men, and 
the result was, that Parliament passed an Act extend- 
ing Watt's patent right for the further term of twenty- 
four years. Watt wrote Boulton on the 27th May, "I 
hope to be clear to come away by Wednesday or Thurs- 
day. I am heartily sick of this town and fort ennuyee 
since you left it. Dr. Eoebuck is likely to get an order, 
out of Smeaton's hands, for an engine in Yorkshire that, 
according to Smeaton's calculation, will burn 1200/. per 
annum in coals. But this has had one bad effect. It 
has made the Doctor repent of his bargain and wish 
again to be upon the 1-1 Oth [profits] ; but we must see 
to keep him right if possible, so don't vex yourself about 
it." Dr. Eoebuck had been finally settled with before 
the passing of the Act. It had been arranged that 
Boulton should pay him 1000/. out of the first profits 
arising from his share in the engine, making about 
2200/. in all paid by Boulton to Eoebuck for his two- 
thirds of the patent. 1 

Watt returned to Birmingham to set about the 
making of the engines for which orders had already been 
received. Boulton had been busily occupied during his 
absence in experimenting on the Soho engine. A new 
18-inch cylinder had been cast for it at Bersham by John 
Wilkinson, the great ironfounder, 2 who had contrived a 

1 Bonds were given for the 1000Z., 
but the assignees of Roebuck be- 
coming impatient for the money, 
Boulton discharged them to get rid of 
their importunity, long before any 
profits had been derived from the 
manufacture of the engines. 

2 John Wilkinson, the " father of 
the iron-trade " as he styled himself, 
was a man of extraordinary energy of 
character. He was strong-headed and 
strong-tempered and of inflexible de- 
termination. His father, Isaac Wil- 
kinson, who originally started the iron 
trade at Wrexham, was a man pos- 
sessed of quick discernment and versa- 

tile talents, though he wanted that 
firmness and constancy of purpose 
which so eminently distinguished his 
son. Isaac Wilkinson used thus to 
tell his own history : " I worked," 
said he, " at a forge in the north. 
My masters gave me 12s. a week : I 
was content. They raised me to 14s. : 
I did not ask them for it. They went 
on to 16s., 18s. : I never asked them 
for the advances. They gave me a 
guinea a week ! Said I to myself, if I 
am worth a guinea a week to you, 
I am worth more to myself! I left 
them, and began business on my own 
account at first in a small way. I 




machine for boring it with accuracy. This cylinder was 
substituted for the tin one brought from Kinneil, and 
other improvements having been introduced, the engine 
was again set to work with very satisfactory results. 
TV'att found his partner in good spirits ; not less elated 
by the performances of the model than by the passing 
of the Act ; and arrangements were at once set on foot 
for carrying on the manufacture of engines upon an 
extensive scale. Applications for terms, followed by 
orders, shortly came in from the mining districts ; and 
before long the works at Soho were resounding with 
the clang of hammers and machinery employed in 
manufacturing steam-engines for all parts of the civilised 

prospered. I grew tired of my leathern 
bellows, and determined to make iron 
ones. Everybody laughed at me. I 
did it, and applied the steam-engine 
to blow them ; and they all cried, 
* Who could have thought it ! ' " His 
son John carried on the operations 
connected with the iron manufacture 
on a far more extensive scale than his 
father at Bradley, Willey, Snedshill, 
and Bersham. His castings were the 
largest until then attempted, and 
the boring machinery which he in- 
vented was the best of its kind. All 
the castings for Boulton and Watt's 
large Cornish engines were manufac- 
tured by him, previous to the erection 
of the Soho foundry. He also bored 
cannon for the government on a large 
scale. Amongst his other merits, 
John Wilkinson is clearly entitled to 
that of having built the first iron 
vessel. It was made to bring peat- 
moss to his iron furnace at Wilson 
House, near Castle Head, in Cartmel, 
in order to smelt the hematite iron- 
ore of Furness. This was followed by 
other larger iron vessels, one of which 
was of 40 tons burden, and used to 
carry iron down the Severn. Before 

Wilkinson's first iron boat was 
launched, people laughed at the idea 
of its floating, as it was so well 
known that iron immediately sank in 
water ! In a letter to Mr. Stockdale, 
of Carke, Cartmel, the original of 
which is before us, dated Broseley, 

j 14th July, 1787, Mr. Wilkinson says, 
"Yesterday week my iron boat was 
launched, answers ail my expecta- 
tions, and has convinced the unbe- 
lievers, who were 999 in 1000. It 
will be only a nine days' wonder, and 

' afterwards a Columbus's egg." In 
another letter, dated Bradley Iron 

: Works, 24th Oct., 1788, he writes to 
the same, " There have been two 
iron vessels launched in my service 
since 1st September. One is a canal- 
boat for this navigation, the other a 
barge of 40 tons, for the river Severn. 
The last was floated on Moriday, and 
is, I expect, now at Stourport, a-lading 
with bar-iron. My clerk at Broseley 
advises me that she swims remarkably 
light, and exceeds even my own ex- 
pectations." For further notice of 
John Wilkinson, see 'Lives of the 
Engineers,' ii. 337, 356. 




WATT now arranged to take up his residence in Bir- 
mingham until the issue of the steam-engine enterprise 
could be ascertained, and he went down to Glasgow to 
bring up his two children, whom he had left in charge 
of their relatives. Boulton had taken a house on Harper's 
Hill, which was in readiness for the reception of the 
family on their arrival about the end of August, 1775. 
Regent' s-place, Harper's Hill, was then the nearest house 
to Soho on that side of Birmingham. It was a double 
house, substantially built in brick, with stone facings, 
standing on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by 
fields and gardens. St. Paul's, the nearest church, was 
not built until four years after Watt took up his abode 
there. But the house at Harper's Hill is in the country 


no longer : it is now surrounded in all directions by 
dense masses of buildings, and is itself inhabited by 
working people. 

The first engine made at Soho was one ordered by 
John Wilkinson to blow the bellows of his ironworks at 
Broseley. Great interest was, of course, felt in the 
success of this engine. Watt took great pains with 
the drawings ; the workmen did their best to execute 
the several parts accurately, for it was understood that 
many orders depended upon whether it worked satis- 
factorily or not. Wilkinson's iron-manufacturing neigh- 
bours, who were contemplating the erection of Newco- 
meii engines, suspended their operations until they 
had an opportunity of seeing what Boulton and Watt's 
engine could do ; and all looked forward to its com- 
pletion with the most eager interest. When all was 
ready at Soho, the materials were packed up and sent 
to Broseley, Watt accompanying them to superintend 
the erection. He had as yet no assistant to whom he 
could intrust such a piece of work, on which so much 
depended. The engine was erected and ready for use 
about the beginning of 1776. As it approached com- 
pletion Watt became increasingly anxious to make a 
trial of its powers. But Boulton wrote to him not to 
hurry not to let the engine make a stroke until every 
possible hinderance to its successful action had been 
removed ; " and then," said he, " in the name of God, 
fall to and do your best." The result of the extreme 
care taken with the construction and erection of the 
engine was entirely satisfactory. It worked to the ad- 
miration of all who saw it, and the fame of Boulton and 
Watt became great in the midland counties. 

While Watt was thus occupied, Boulton was pushing 
on the new buildings at Soho. He kept his partner fully 
advised of all that was going on. " The new forging- 
shop," he wrote, " looks very formidable : the roof is 


nearly put on, and the hearths are both built." Tools and 
machinery were being prepared, and all looked hopeful 
for the future. Orders were coming in for engines. 
One in hand for Bloomfield Colliery was well advanced. 
Many inquiries had come from Cornwall. Mr. Papps, of 
Truro, was anxious to introduce the engine in that county. 
Out of forty engines there, only eighteen were in work ; 
so that there was a fine field for future operations. " Pray 
tell Mr. Wilkinson," Boulton added, " to get a dozen 
cylinders cast and bored, from 12 to 50 inches diameter, 
and as many condensers of suitable sizes. The latter 
must be sent here, as we will keep them ready fitted up, 
and then an engine can be turned out of hand in two or 
three weeks. I have fixed my mind upon making from 
twelve to fifteen reciprocating and fifty rotative engines 
per annum. I assure you that of all the toys and trinkets 
which we manufacture at Soho, none shall take the place 
of fire-engines in respect of my attention." ' 

Boulton was not, however, exclusively engrossed by 
engine affairs. Among other things he informed Watt 
that he had put his little boy Jamie to a good school, 
and that he was very much occupied, as usual, in enter- 
taining visitors. " The Empress of Eussia," he wrote, 
" is now at my house, and a charming woman she is." 
The Empress afterwards sent Boulton her portrait, and 
it was long one of the ornaments of Soho. Amidst 
his various occupations he contrived to find leisure for 
experiments on minerals, having received from a corre- 
spondent in Wales a large assortment of iron-ores to 
assay. He was also trying experiments on the model 
engine, the results of which were duly communicated to 
his partner. 2 

1 Boulton to Watt, 24th February, 
1776. Boulton MSS. 

Watt was himself occupied, during 

in devising improvements in the de- 
tails of his engine. Boulton says "I 
observe you are thinking of making 

his temporary residence at Broseley, ; an inverted cylinder. Pray how are 


On Watt's return to Soho, Boulton proceeded to 
London 011 financial affairs, as well as to look after 
engine orders. He there found reports in circulation 
among the engineering class that the new engine had 
proved a failure. The Society of Engineers in Holborn, 
of which Smeaton was the great luminary, had settled 
it that neither the tools nor the workmen existed that 
could manufacture so complex a machine with sufficient 
precision, and it was asserted that all the ingenuity and 
skill of Soho had been unable to conquer the defects of 
the piston. "So said Holmes, the clockmaker," wrote 
Boulton, Holmes being the intimate friend of Smeaton ; 
" but no language will be sufficiently persuasive on that 
head except the good performance of the engines them- 
selves." l Boulton, therefore, urged the completion of 
the engine then in hand for Cooke and Company's dis- 
tillery at Stratford-le-Bow, near London. " Wilby," 
[the managing partner,] said he, " seems very impatient, 
and so am I, both for the sake of reputation as well as 
to begin to turn the tide of money," the current of 
which had as yet been all outwards. Boulton went to 
see the York Buildings engine, which had been recon- 
structed by Smeaton, and was then reckoned one of the 
best on the Newcomen plan. The old man who tended 
it lauded the engine to the skies, and notwithstanding 
Boulton's description of the new engines at work in 
Staffordshire, he would not believe that any engine in 
existence could excel his own. 

In the course of the summer Watt again visited Grlas- 

you to counterbalance the descent of 
the piston and pump rods, which will 
be a vast weight ? If by a counter- 
weight you gain nothing. But if you 
can employ the power that arises from 
the descent of that vast weight to 
strain a spring that will repay its 

will contribute to overcome the vis 
inertice of the column of water to be 
raised, you will thereby get rid of that 
unmechanical tax, and very much 
improve the reciprocating engine." 
Boulton to Watt, 24th February, 
1776. Boulton MSS. 

debts if by it you can compress air * Boulton to Watt, 23rd April, 
in an iron cylinder which in its return ' 1776. Boulton MSS. 




( U'ow, this time for the purpose of bringing back a 
wife. The lady he proposed to marry was Miss Anne 
Macgregor, daughter of a respectable dyer. The young 
lady's consent was obtained, as well as her father's, to 
the proposed union ; but the latter, before making any 
settlement on his daughter, intimated to Watt that he 
desired to see the partnership agreement between him 
and Boulton. Now, although the terms of partnership 
had been generally arranged, they had not yet been put 
into legal form, and Watt asked that this should be done 
for the cautious old gentleman's satisfaction without 
delay. 1 About his love affair Watt wrote, 

" Whether a man of the world, such as you, look upon my present 
love as the folly of youth or the dotage of age [Watt was then in his 

1 The arrangement between the 
partners is indicated by the following 
passage of Watt's letter to Boulton : 
" As you may have possibly mislaid 
my missive to you concerning the 
contract, I beg just to mention what 
I remember of the terms. 

" 1. I to assign to you two-thirds of 
the property of the invention. 

" 2. You to pay all expenses of the 
Act or others incurred before June, 
1775 (the date of the Act), and also 
the expense of future experiments, 
which money is to be sunk without 
interest by you, being the considera- 
tion you pay for your share. 

" 3. You to advance stock in trade 
bearing interest, but having no claim 
on me for any part of that, further 
than my intromissions ; the stock 
itself to be your security and pro- 

" 4. I to draw one-third of the profits 
so soon as any arise from the business, 
after paying the workmen's wages 
and goods furnished, but abstract 
from the stock in trade, excepting the 
interest thereof, which is to be de- 
ducted before a balance is struck. 

" 5. I to make drawings, give direc- 
tions, and make surveys, the com- 
pany paying the travelling expenses 
to either of us when upon engine busi- 

" 6. You to keep the books and 
balance them once a year. 

" 7. A book to be kept wherein to be 
marked such transactions as arc 
worthy of record, which, when signed 
by both, to have the force of the 

"8. Neither of us to alienate our 
share without consent of the other, 
and if either of us by death or other- 
wise shall be incapacitated from acting 
for ourselves, the other of us to be the 
sole manager without contradiction or 
interference of heirs, exeeutors, as- 
signees, or others; but the books to 
be subject to their inspection, and 
the acting partner of us to be allowed 
a reasonable commission for extra 

" 9. The contract to continue in force 
for twenty-five years, from the 1st of 
June, 1775, when the partnership 
commenced, notwithstanding the con- 
tract being of later date. 

" 10. Our heirs, executors, and as- 
signees, bound to observance. 

** 11. In case of demise of both par- 
ties, our heirs, &c., to succeed in same 
manner, and if they all please, they 
may burn the contract. 

"If anything be very disagreeable in 
these terms, you will find me disposed 
to do everything reasonable for your 
satisfaction." Boulton MSS. 


fortieth year], I find myself in no humour to lay it aside, or to look 
upon it in either of these lights, but consider it as one of the wisest 
of my actions, and should look upon a disappointment in it as one 
of the greatest of my misfortunes. ... I have had better health 
since I left you than has been my lot for years, and my spirits have 
borne me through my vexations wonderfully. I have lost all dread 
of any future connexion with Monsieur la Verole, and, if I carry 
my point in this matter, I hope to be very much more useful to 
you than has hitherto been in my power. The spur will be 
greater." ' 

While in Scotland Watt obtained orders for several 
engines ; amongst others, he undertook to supply one 
for the Torryburn Colliery, in Fife, on the terms of 
receiving one-third of the savings effected by it com- 
pared with the engine then at work, with such further 
sum as might be judged fair. Another was ordered 
by Sir Archibald Hope for his colliery near Edin- 
burgh, on similar terms. At the same time Watt pro- 
ceeded with the collection of his old outstanding debts, 
though these did not amount to much. "I believe," 
he wrote to Boulton, " I shall have no occasion to draw 
on you for any money, having got in some of my old 
scraps, which will serve, or nearly serve, my occasions 

The deed of partnership not arriving, Watt wrote 
again, pressing Boulton for some communication from 
him to satisfy the old gentleman as to his situation. 

" Don't let me be detected in a falsehood," said he, " or accused of 
imprudence. The thing which sticks most in his [Mr. Macgregor's] 
stomach is, that somehow or other, in case of the failure of success, 
I may be brought into a load of debt which may totally ruin me. 
I hope you will excuse his caution in this matter, as I do, when 
you consider that he is disposing of a favourite child, and conse- 
quently must expect all the security possible for her wellbeing. 
I must also do him the justice to say that he has behaved to me in 
a very open and friendly manner ; and, when he found that his 
daughter's aifections were engaged beyond recall, gave his consent 
with a good grace. ... I have nothing to write you in the way of 

Watt to Boulton, 3rd July, 1776. Boulton MSS. 


news. I am bandied about like a football, and perfectly impatient 
to leave this country, but do not care to come away without my 
errand. I long vastly to hear from you, how you all are, and how 
matters go on. I hope Jemmy is minding his school and is well : 
you need not tell him nor anybody else that I am going to bring 
him home a mamma." l 

Boulton' s reply was perfectly satisfactory. He con- 
firmed the heads of the agreement, as sketched out by 
Watt himself, adopting his own words. He warmly 
congratulated him on his approaching marriage, being 
convinced that it was the goddess of wisdom that had 
led him to the altar of love. But he thought Watt 
might be over delicate as to money matters. 

" You certainly," said he, " have a right to expect from the lady's 
father a child's share, both present and reversionary ; and you 
certainly have a right to expect some ready money, as a small sum 
may be of more importance to you in the meridian of life than a 
large one at the close of it. I have always heard you speak of the 
old gentleman as a man of exceeding good sound sense, and therefore 
I should think you will have the less difficulty in settling matters 
with him. No doubt he will expect some settlement to be made 
upon his daughter, and all that I advise is, that you do not under- 
value (according to your custom) your own abilities or your 
property. It may be difficult to say what is the value of your 
property in partnership with me. However, I will give it a name, 
and I do say that I would willingly give you two or perhaps three 
thousand pounds for the assignment of your third part of the Act of 
Parliament ; but I should be sorry to make you so bad a bargain, 
or to make any bargain at all that tended to deprive me of your 
friendship, acquaintance, and assistance, hoping, as I do, that we 
shall harmoniously live to wear out the twenty-five years together, 
which I had rather do than gain a Nabob's fortune by being the 
sole proprietor. ... I wish I had more time to tell you all the 
circumstances that have occurred in the engine trade; but that 
shall be the subject of my next. All is well, and when you return 
you'll be quite charmed at the simplicity and quietness of the Soho 
engine." 2 

With his usual want of confidence in himself, Watt 

1 Watt to Boulton, 8th July, 1776. Boulton MSS. 

2 Boulton to Watt, 15th July, 1776. Boulton MSS. 


urged Boulton to come down to Glasgow and assist him 
in concluding matters with the old gentleman. 

" I am afraid," he wrote, " that I shall otherwise make a very 
bad bargain in money matters, which wise men like you esteem the 
most essential part, and I myself, although I be an enamoured 
swain, do not altogether despise. You may perhaps think it odd 
that in the midst of my friends here I should call for your help ; 
but the fact is, that from several reasons I do not choose to place 
that confidence in any of my friends here that would be necessary 
in such a case, and I do not know any of them that have more to 
say with the gentleman in question than I have myself. Besides, 
you are the only person who can give him satisfactory information 
concerning my situation." 

But Boulton was too busy at the time to go down to 
Glasgow to the help of his partner. He was full of 
work, full of orders, full of Soho. He replied, 

" Although I have added to the list of my bad habits by joking 
upon matrimony, yet my disposition and my judgment would lead 
me to marry again were I in your case. I know you will be 
happier as a married man than as a single one, and therefore it is 
wisdom in you to wed ; and if that could not be done without my 
coming to Scotland, I certainly would come if it were as far again ; 
but I am so beset with difficulties, that nothing less than the 
absolute loss of your life, or wife which is virtually the same 
thing could bring me." 

He further explained that a good deal of extra work 
had fallen upon him, through the absence of some of his 
most important assistants. Mr. Matthews, his London 
financial agent, like Watt, was about to be married, and 
would be absent abroad for a tour on a wedding trip, in 
which he was to be accompanied by Fothergill, Boulton's 
partner in the toy and button trade. Mr. Scale, the 
manager, was also absent, added to which the button 
orders were in arrear some 16,000 gross; so that, said 
Boulton, " I have more real difficulties to grapple with 
than I hope ever to have in any other year in my life." 

There were also constant visitors arriving at Soho: 
among others the Duke of Buccleuch, who had called to 
see the ^ works and inquire after Mr. Watt; and Mr. 


Moor, of the Society of Engineers in the Adelphi, who 
had come to see with his own eyes whether the reports 
in circulation against the new engine were true or false. 
The perfecting of the details of the engine also required 
constant attention. 

" Our copper bottom," said Boulton, " hath plagued us very much 
by steam leaks, and therefore I have had one cast (with its 
conducting pipe) all in one piece ; since which the engine doth not 
take more than 10 feet of steam, and I hope to reduce that quantity, 
as we have just received the new piston, which shall be put in and 
at work to-morrow. Our Soho engine never was in such good 
order as at present. Bloomfield and Willey [engines] are both 
well, and I doubt not but Bow engine will be better than 
any of 'em." 

Boulton was almost as full of speculation as Watt him- 
self as to the means of improving the engine. " I did not 
sleep last night," he wrote, " my mind being absorbed by 
steam." One of his speculations was as to the means of 
increasing the heating surface, and with that object he 
proposed to apply the fire " in copper spheres within the 
water." His mind was also running on economising 
power by working steam expansively, " being clear that 
the principle is sound." 

Later, he wrote Watt that he had an application from 
a distiller at Bristol for an engine to raise 15,000 gallons 
of ale per hour 15 feet high ; another for a coal mine in 
Wales, and two others for London distilleries. To add to 
his anxieties, one Humphry Gainsborough, a dissenting 
minister at Henley-oii-Thames, had instituted proceed- 
ings against Watt for an alleged piracy of his invention ! 
On this Boulton wrote to his partner, " I have just 
received a summons to attend the Solicitor-General next 
week in opposition to Gainsborough, otherwise the 
solicitor will make his report. This is a disagreeable 
circumstance, particularly at this season, when you are 
absent. Joseph [Harrison] is in London, and idleness 
is in our engine - shop." There was therefore every 
reason why Watt should make haste to get married, and 




return to Soho as speedily as possible. On the 28th July, 
1770, Watt wrote to apologise for his long absence, and 
to say that the event was to come off on the following 
Monday, after which he would set out immediately for 
Liverpool, where he proposed to meet Boulton, unless 
countermanded. He also intimated that he had got 
another order for an engine at Leadhills. 1 Arrived at 
Liverpool, a letter from Boulton met him, saying he 
had been under the necessity of proceeding to London. 

" Gainsborough," said he, " hath appointed to meet me at Holt's, 
his attorney, on Monday, when I shall say little besides learning 
his principles and invention. If we had a hundred wheels [wheel- 
engines] ready made, and a hundred small engines, like Bow engine, 
and twenty large ones executed, we could readily dispose of them. 
Therefore let us make hay while the sun shines, and gather our 
barns full before the dark cloud of age lowers upon us, and before 
any more Tubal Cains, Watts, Dr. Faustuses, or Gainsboroughs, 
arise with serpents like Moses's to devour all others. ... As to 
your absence, say nothing about it. I will forgive it this time, 
provided you promise me never to marry again." 2 

Watt hastened back to Birmingham, and after settling 
his wife in her new home, proceeded with the execu- 
tion of the orders for engines which had come in 
during his two months' absence. Mr. Wilby was im- 
patient for the delivery of the Bow engine, and as 
soon as it was ready, which was early in September, 
the materials were forwarded to London with Joseph 
Harrison, to be fitted and set to work. Besides careful 
verbal instructions, Watt supplied Joseph with full 
particulars in writing of the measures he was to adopt 

1 During his Scotch visit, Watt 
spent much of his time in arranging 
his father's affairs, which had got into 
confusion. He was now seventy-five 
years old, and grown very infirm. 
" He is perfectly incapable," wrote his 
son, " of giving himself the least help, 
and the seeing him in such a situation 
has much hurt my spirits." Watt to 
Boulton, 28th July, 1766. Boulton 

2 Boulton to Watt (without date), 
1776. Boulton MSS. In this letter, 
Boulton throws out a suggestion for 
Watt's consideration "When," he 
says, " we have got our two-foot pumps 
up, I think it would be right to try 
our Soho engine with a steam strong 
enough to work the pumps with the 
axis in the centre of the beam, which 
will be almost 19 Ib. upon the inch." 


in putting the engine together. Not a point in detail 
was neglected, and if any difficulty arose, Joseph was 
directed at once to communicate with him by letter. 
When the engine was set to work, it was found that the 
steam could not be kept up, on which Watt suggested 
that as it had been calculated to make only ten strokes 
per minute that being enough to raise the quantity of 
water desired the reason of the defect must be that, as 
it was going at fourteen or fifteen strokes the minute, it 
must be going too fast. He also pointed out that pro- 
bably the piston was not quite good, and perhaps there 
was some steam-leak into the inner cylinder, or by the 
regulators into the condenser ; or it was possible that the 
injection might spout too far up the horizontal steam- 
pipe and throw water into the inner nozzle. All these 
points Joseph must carefully look to. On further trials 
the engine improved ; still its performances did not come 
up to Watt's expectations, and there were consequently 
more directions from him as to the packing of the pis- 
tons and measures for the prevention of leaks. But to 
see that his suggestions were properly carried out, Watt 
himself went up to town in November, and had the 
machine put in complete working trim. His partner, 
however, could not spare him long, as other orders were 
coming in. " We have a positive 1 order," wrote Boulton, 
" for an engine for Tingtang mine, and, from what I 
heard this day from Mr. Glover, we may soon expect 
other orders from Cornwall. Our plot begins to thicken 
apace, and if Mr. Wilkinson don't bustle a little, as well 
as ourselves, we shall not gather our harvest before sun- 
set." ... "I hope to hear," he added, " that Joseph 
hath made a finish, for he is much wanted here. . . . 
I perceive we shall be hard pushed in engine-work ; but 
I have no fears of being distanced when once the exact 
course or best track is determined on." * Joseph Harrison. 

1 Boulton to Watt, 3rd November, I informs Watt that Perrins, another 
1776. In the same letter Boulton fireman, had returned from Bedwortb, 


got quite knocked up and ill through his anxiety about 
the Bow engine, on which Boultoii wrote Watt to send 
at once for Dr. Fordyce to attend him, " let the expense 
be what it will, until you think him safe landed." 

A letter reached Soho from the Shad well Waterworks 
Company relative to a pumpirig-engine, and Boulton 
asked Watt, while in town, to wait upon them on the 
subject ; but he cautioned Watt that he " never knew a 
Committee but, in its corporate capacity, was both rogue 
and fool, and that the Shadwell Committee were rich 
rogues." Watt, by his own account, treated them very 
cavalierly. " Yesterday," said he, " I went again to 
Shadwell to meet the deputies of the Committee, and 
to examine their engines when going. We came to no 
terms further than what we wrote them before, which I 
confirmed, and offered moreover to keep the engine in 
order for one year. They modestly insisted that we 
should do so for .the whole twenty-five years, which I 
firmly refused. They seemed to doubt the reality of the 
performances of the Bow engine ; so I told them we did 
not solicit their orders and would wait patiently until 
they were convinced, moreover, that while they had 
any doubts remaining, we would not undertake their 
business on any terms. I should not have been so sharp 
with them had they not begun with bullying me, selon 
la mode de Londres. But the course I took was not 
without its effect, for in proportion as they found I 
despised their job, they grew more civil. After parting 
with these heroes I went down to Stratford, where I 
found that the engine had gone very well. I caused it 

and had not a stroke to do, the fittings 
for the second engine not having 
arrived. The first engine was working 
twenty-four hours a day, but the pit 
was so full of water that the owners 
feared they would before long be 
drowned out; and if the work was 
stopped, the loss would be far greater 
than the whole value of the engine. 

But the sales of coal, though large, were 
but " a small consideration in com- 
parison with the starving to death of 
the poor ribbon-weavers of Coventry 
and a great part of Oxfordshire. . . . 
Coals are 9cZ. and lOd. per cwt., and 
'tis said they will be a shilling at 
Birmingham on Monday." 



to be kept going all the afternoon, and this morning I 
new-heat the piston and kept it going till dinner time 
at about fifteen strokes per minute, with a steam of one 
inch or at most two inches strong, and the longer it went 
the better it grew. ... I propose that Joseph should 
not leave it for a few days, until both his health and 
that of the engine be confirmed. A relapse of the 
engine would ruin our reputation here, and indeed 
elsewhere." 1 

The Bow engine had, however, a serious relapse in 
the following spring, and it happened in this way : Mr. 
Smeaton, the engineer, having heard of its success, which 
he doubted, requested Hadley, Boulton's agent, to go 
down with him to Stratford-le-Bow to witness its per- 
formances. He carefully examined the engine, and 
watched it while at work, and the conclusion he arrived 
at was, that it was a pretty engine, but much too com- 
plex for practical uses. On leaving the place Smeaton 
gave the engineman some money to drink, and he drank 
so much that next day he let the engine run quite wild, 
and it was thrown completely out of order. Mr. Wilby, 
the manager, was very wroth at the circumstance. He 
discharged the engineman and called upon Hadley to 
replace the valves, which had been broken, and make 
good the other damage that had been done to the engine. 
When the repairs were made, everything went satis- 
factorily as before. 

Watt had many annoyances of this sort to encounter, 
and one of his greatest difficulties was the incapacity and 
unsteadiness of his workmen. Although the original 
Soho men were among the best of their kind, the in- 
creasing business of the firm necessarily led to the intro- 
duction of a large number of new hands, who represented 
merely the average workmen of the day. They were 

Watt to Bonlton, 3rd December, 1776. Bonlton MSS. 


for the most part poor mechanics, very inexpert at 
working in metal, and greatly given to drink. 1 

In organising the works at Soho, Boulton and 
Watt found it necessary to carry division of labour to 
the farthest practicable point. There were no slide- 
lathes, planing-machines, or boring-tools, such as now 
render mechanical accuracy of construction almost a 
matter of certainty. Everything depended upon the 
individual mechanic's accuracy of hand and eye ; and 
yet mechanics generally were then much less skilled 
than they are now. The way in which Boulton and 
Watt contrived partially to get over the difficulty was, 
to confine their workmen to special classes of work, and 
make them as expert in them as possible. By continued 
practice in handling the same tools and fabricating the 
same articles, they thus acquired great individual pro- 
ficiency. " Without our tools and our workmen," said 
Watt, " very little could be done." 

But when the men got well trained, the difficulty 
was to keep them. Foreign tempters were constantly 
trying to pick up Boulton and Watt's men, and induce 
them by offers of larger wages to take service abroad. 
The two fitters sent up to London to erect the Bow engine 
were strongly pressed to go out to Russia. 2 There were 

ing." Car less and Webb were imme- 
diately ordered back to Soho, and the 

1 Fire-engines at work were objects 
of curiosity in those days, and had 
many visitors. The engineman at the 
York Buildings reminded those who 
went to see his engine that something 
was expected, placing over the en- 

firm obtained warrants for the appre- 
hension of the men as well as of the 
person who had bribed them, if they 
attempted to abscond " even though,'' 

trance to the engine room the follow- | said Watt to Boulton, " Carless be a 
ing distich : drunken and comparatively useless 

" Whoever wants to see the engine here, 

fellow." Later he wrote, " I think 

UUCVCi YVC1I1LO LV OCC lilC ClltliliC Ud^y * '1C TTT 1151 

Must give the engine-man a drop of beer." I th3re 1S ?? risk of Webb leaving us 

soon, and he oners to re-engage. Carless 
has been working very diligently this 
week, and is well on with "his nozzle 
patterns. I mentioned to William 

" Mr. White told me this morning 
as a great secret," wrote Boulton's 
London agent, " that he has reason to 
believe that Carless and Webb were 
going beyond sea, for Carless had told 
him he had 10007. offered for six 
years, and he overheard Webb say 
that he was ready at an hour's warn- 

the story of Sir John Fielding's war- 
rant, to show him that we are deter- 
mined to act with spirit in case of 
interlopers." Watt to Boulton, May 3, 


Q 2 


also French agents in England at the same time, who 
tried to induce certain of Boulton and Watt's men to go 
over to Paris and communicate the secret of making the 
new engines to M. Perrier, who had undertaken to pump 
water from the Seine for the supply of Paris. The 
German States also sent over emissaries with a like object, 
Baron Stein having been specially commissioned by his 
Government to master the secret of Watt's engine to 
obtain working plans of it and bring away workmen 
capable of making it, the first step taken being to 
obtain access to the engine-rooms by bribing the work- 

Besides the difficulties Boulton and Watt had to en- 
counter in training and disciplining their own workmen, 
they had also to deal with the want of skill on the part 
of those to whom the working of their engines was 
intrusted after they had been delivered and fixed com- 
plete. They occasionally supplied trustworthy men of 
their own ; but they could not educate mechanics fast 
enough, and needed all the best men for their own work. 
They were therefore compelled to rely on the average 
mechanics of the day, the greater part of whom were 
comparatively unskilled and knew nothing of the steam- 
engine. Hence such mishaps as those which befell the 
Bow engine, through the engineman getting drunk and 
reckless, as above described. To provide for this con- 
tingency Watt endeavoured to simplify the engine as 
much as possible, so as to bring its working and repair 
within the capacity of the average workman. 

At a very early period, while experimenting at Kinneil, 
he had formed the idea of working steam expansively, 
and altered his model from time to time with that -object. 
Boulton had taken up and continued the experiments at 
Soho, believing the principle to be sound and that great 
economy would attend its adoption. The early engines 
were accordingly made so that the steam might be cut 
off before the piston had made its full stroke, and expand 


within the cylinder, the heat outside it being maintained 
by the expedient of the steam-case. But it was shortly 
found that this method of working was beyond the 
capacity of the average engineman of that day, and it 
was consequently given up for a time. 

" We used to send out," said Watt to Eobert Hart, " a cylinder of 
double the size wanted, and cut off the steam at half stroke. This 
was a great saving of steam so long as the valves remained as at 
first ; but when our men left her to the charge of the person who 
was to keep her, he began to make or try to make improvements, 
often by giving more steam. The engine did more work while the 
steam lasted, but the boiler could not keep up the demand. Then 
complaints came of want of steam, and we had to send a man down 
to see what was wrong. This was so expensive that we resolved to 
give up the expansion of the steam until we could get men that 
could work it, as a few tons of coal per year was less expensive than 
having the work stopped. In some of the mines a few hours' 
stoppage was a serious matter, as it would cost the proprietor as 
much as 70Z. per hour." l 

The principle was not, however, abandoned. It was 
of great value and importance in an economical point of 
view, and was again taken up by Watt and embodied in 
a more complete form in a subsequent invention. Since 
his time, indeed, expansive working has been carried to 
a much farther extent than he probably ever dreamt of ? 
and has more than realised the beneficial results which 
his sagacious insight so early anticipated. 

Robert Hart's * Reminiscences of James Watt,' cited above. 




THE Cornish miners continued baffled by their attempts 
to get rid of the water which hindered the working of 
their mines. The Newcomen engines had been taxed to 
the utmost, but were unable to send them deeper into 
the ground, and they were accordingly ready to welcome 
any invention that promised to relieve them of their 
difficulty. Among the various new contrivances for 
pumping water, that of Watt seemed to offer the greatest 
advantages ; and if what was alleged of it proved true 
that it was of greater power than the Newcomen engine, 
while its consumption of fuel was much less, then it 
could not fail to prove of the greatest advantage to 
Cornish industry. 

Long before Watt's arrival in Birmingham, the Cornish- 
men had been in correspondence with Boulton, making 
inquiries about the new Scotch invention, of which they 
had heard ; and Dr. Small, in his letters to Watt, re- 
peatedly urged him to perfect his engine, with a view 
to its being employed in the drainage of the Cornish 
mines. Now that the engine was at work in several 
places, Boulton invited his correspondents in Cornwall 
to inquire as to its performances, at Soho, or Bedworth, 
or Bow, or any other place where it had been erected. 
The result of the inquiry and inspection was satisfactory, 
and several orders for engines for Cornwall were received 
at Soho by the end of 1776. The two first that were 
ready for erection were those ordered for Wheal Busy, 
near Chace water, and for Tingtang, near Redruth. The 




materials for the former were shipped by the middle of 
1777 ; and, as much would necessarily depend upon the 
successful working of the first engines put up in Corn- 
wall, Watt himself went to superintend their erection in 

Watt reached his destination after a long and tedious 
journey over bad roads. He rode by stage as far as 
Exeter, and posted the rest of the way. At Chace water 
he found himself in the midst of perhaps the richest 
mining district in the world. From thence to Caniborne, 
which lies to the west, and Gwennap to the south, is a 


constant succession of mines. The earth has been bur- 
rowed in all directions for many miles in search of ore, 
principally copper the surface presenting an unnatu- 
rally blasted and scarified appearance by reason of the 
" deads " or refuse run out in heaps from the mine-heads. 
Engine-houses and chimneys are the most prominent 
features in the landscape, and dot the horizon as far as 
the eye can reach. 

When Watt arrived at Chacewater he found the 


materials for the Wheal Busy engine had come to hand, 
and that some progress had been made with its erection. 
The materials for the Tingtang engine, however, had 
not yet been received from Soho, and the owners of the 
mine were becoming very impatient for it. Watt wrote 
to his partner urging despatch, otherwise the engine 
might be thrown on their hands, especially if the Chace- 
water engine, now nearly ready for work, did not give 
satisfaction. From Watt's account, it would appear that 
the Cornish mines were in a very bad way. " The 
Tingtang people," he said, " are now fairly put out by 
water, and the works are quite at a stand." The other 
mines in the neighbourhood were in no better plight. 
The pumping-engines could not keep down the water. 
" Poldice has grown worse than Wheal Yirgin was : 
they have sunk 40 01. a month for some months past, and 
TOO/, the last month ; they will probably soon give up. 
North Downs seems to be our next card." * The owners 
of the Wheal Virgin mine, though drowned out, like 
many others, could not bring their minds to try Watt's 
engine. They had no faith in it, and stuck by the old 
atmospheric of Newcomen. They accordingly erected 
an additional engine of this kind to enable them to go 
about eight fathoms deeper, " and they have bought," 
wrote Watt, " an old boiler of monstrous size at the 
Briggin, which they have offered 50/. to get carried to 
its place." 

At Chacewater Watt first met Jonathan Hornblower, 
son of the Joseph Hornblower who had come into Corn- 
wall from Staffordshire, some fifty years before, to erect 
one of the early Newcomen engines. The son had followed 
in his father's steps, and become celebrated in the Chace- 
water district as an engineer. It was natural that he 
should regard with jealousy the patentees of the new 
engine ; for if it proved a success, his vocation as a 

1 Watt to Boulton, 4th August, 1777. 




maker of atmospheric engines would be at an end. 
Watt thus referred to him in a letter to Boultori : " Horn- 
blower seems a very pleasant sort of old Presbyterian : 
he carries himself very fair, though I hear that he is an 
unbelieving Thomas." His unbelief strongly showed 
itself on the starting of the Wheal Busy engine shortly 
after, when he exclaimed, " Pshaw ! it's but a bauble : I 
wouldn't give twopence halfpenny for her." There were 
others beside Hornblower who disliked and resented what 
they regarded as the intrusion of Boulton and Watt in 
their district, and indeed never became wholly reconciled 
to the new engine, though they were compelled to admit 
the inefficiency of the old one. Among these was old 
Bonze, the engineer, a very clever mechanic, who posi- 
tively refused to undertake the erection of the proposed 
new engine at Wheal Union if Boulton and Watt were 
to be in any way concerned with it. But the mine- 
owners had to study their own interest rather than the 
humour of their former engineers, and Watt secured 
the order for the Wheal Union engine. Several other 
orders were promised, conditional on the performances 
of the Wheal Busy engine proving satisfactory. " Ale 
and Cakes," l wrote Watt, " must wait the result of Chace- 
water : several new engines will be erected next year, 
for almost all the old mines are exhausted, or have got 
to the full power of the present engines, which are 
clumsy and nasty, the houses cracked, and everything 
dropping with water from their cisterns." 2 

Watt liked the people as little as he did their engines. 
He thought them ungenerous, jealous, and treacherous. 
" Certainly," said he, " they have the most ungracious 
manners of any people I have ever yet been amongst." 
At the first monthly meeting of the Wheal Virgin ad- 

1 A mine so-called. Many of the 
Cornish mines have very odd names. 
" Cook's Kitchen," near Camborae, is 
one of the oldest and richest. Another 
is called " Cupboard." There arc also 

Wheal Fannys and Wheal Abrahams ; 
and Wheal Fortunes and Wheal 
Virgins in great numbers. 

2 Watt to Boulton, 14th August, 




venturers, which he attended, he found a few gentlemen, 
but " the bulk of them would not be disgraced by being 
classed with Wednesbury colliers." What annoyed him 
most was, that the miners invented and propagated all 
sorts of rumours to his prejudice. " We have been ac- 
cused," said he, "of working without leather upon our 
buckets, and making holes in the clacks in order to 
deceive strangers. ... I choose to keep out of their 
company, as every word spoken by me would be bandied 
about and misrepresented. I have already been accused 
of making several speeches at Wheal Yirgin, where, to 
the best of my memory, I have only talked about eating, 
drinking, and the weather. The greater part of the ad- 
venturers at Wheal Yirgin are a mean dirty pack, preying 
upon one another, and striving who shall impose most 
upon the mine." l Watt was of too sensitive and shrink- 
ing a nature to feel himself at home amongst such people. 
Besides, he was disposed to be peevish and irritable, easily 
cast down, and ready to anticipate the worst. It had 
been the same with him when employed amongst the 
rough labourers on the Monkland Canal, where he had 
declared himself as ready to face a loaded cannon as to 
encounter the altercations of bargain-making. But Watt 
must needs reconcile himself to his post as he best could ; 
for none but himself could see to the proper erection of 
the Wheal Busy engine and get it et to work with any 
chance of success. Meanwhile, the native engineers were 
stimulated by his presence, and by the reputed power of 
the new engine, to exert themselves in improving the 
old one. Bonze was especially active in contriving new 
boilers and new arrangements, by which he promised to 
outstrip all that Watt could possibly accomplish. 2 

1 Watt to Boulton, 25th August, 
1777. Boulton MSS. 

2 " I have seen five of Bonze's 
engines," wrote Watt, " but was far 
from seeing the wonders promised. 
They were 60, 63, and 70 inch cylin- 

ders. At Dalcoath and Wheal Chance 
they are said to use each about 130 
bushels of coals in the 24 hours, and 
to make about 6 or 7 strokes per 
minute, the strokes being under 6 feet 
each. They are burdened to 6, 63, 



- 235 

A letter from Mrs. Watt to Mrs. Boulton, dated 
Chacewater, September 1st, 1777, throws a little light 
on Watt's private life during his stay in Cornwall. She 
describes the difficulty they had in obtaining accommo- 
dation on their arrival, "no such thing as a house or 
lodging to be had for any money within some miles of 
the place where the engine was to be erected ; " hence 
they had been glad to accept of the hospitality of Mr. 
Wilson, the superintendent of the mine. 

" I scarcely know what to say to you of the country. The spot 
we are at is the most disagreeable in the whole county. The face 
of the earth is broken up in ten thousand heaps of rubbish, and 
there is scarce a tree to be seen. But don't think that all Cornwall 
is like Chacewater. I have been at some places that are very 
pleasant, nay beautiful. The sea-coast to me is charming, but not 
easy to be got at. In some cases my poor husband has been obliged 
to mount me behind him to go to some of the places we have been 
at. I assure you I was not a little perplexed at first to be set on a 
great tall horse with a high pillion. At one of our jaunts we were 
only charged twopence a piece for our dinner. You may guess 
what our fare would be from the cost of it ; but I assure you I 
never ate a dinner with more relish in my life, nor was I ever 
happier at a feast, than I was that day at Portreath. . . . One thing 
I must tell you of is, to take care Mr. Boulton's principles are well 
fixed before you trust him here. Poor Mr. Watt is turned Anabaptist, 
and duly attends their meeting ; he is, indeed, and goes to chapel 
most devoutly." 

At last the Chacewater engine was finished and ready 
for work. Great curiosity was felt about its per- 
formances, and mining men and engineers came from 
all quarters to see it start. " All the world are agape," 
said Watt, " to see what it can do." It would not have 
displeased some of the spectators if it had failed. But 
to their astonishment it succeeded. At starting, it made 
eleven eight-feet strokes per minute ; and it worked with 
greater power, went more steadily, and " forked " more 

and 7 Ibs. per inch. One of the 60 
inches threw out about two cubic feet 
of hot water per stroke, heated from 
60 to 165. The 63 inches, with a 5 

feet stroke, threw out 1 cubic foot, 
heated from 60 to 159," and so on 
with the others. Watt to Boulton, 
25th August, 1777. Boulton MSS. 

236 , 



water than any of the ordinary engines, with only about 
one-third the consumption of coal. " We have had 
many spectators," wrote Watt, "and several have 
already become converts. I understand all the west- 
country captains are to be here to-morrow to see the 
prodigy." 1 Even Bonze, his rival, called to see it, and 
promised not only to read his recantation as soon as con- 
vinced, but never to touch a common engine again. 
" The velocity, violence, magnitude, and horrible noise 
of the engine," Watt added, " give universal satisfaction 
to all beholders, believers or not. I have once or twice 
trimmed the engine to end its stroke gently, and to 

make less noise ; but 
Mr. Wilson cannot 
sleep without it 
seems quite furious, 
so I have left it to 
the engine-men; 
and, by the by, the 
noise seems to con- 
vey great ideas of 
its power to the 
ignorant, who seem 
to be no more taken 
with modest merit 
in an engine than 
in a man." In a 
later letter he 
wrote, " The voice 
of the country 
seems to be at pre- 
sent in our favour ; 
and I hope will be 
much more so when 
the engine gets on its whole load, which will be by Tuesday 
next. So soon as that is done, I shall set out for home." 


1 Watt to Ikmlton, 13th September, 1777. 


A number of orders for engines had come in at Soho 
during Watt's absence ; and it became necessary for him 
to return there as speedily as possible, to prepare the 
plans and drawings, and put the work in hand. There 
was no person yet attached to the concern who was 
capable of relieving him of this part of his duties ; while 
Boulton was fully occupied with conducting the com- 
mercial part of the business. By the end of autumn 
he was again at home ; and for a week after his return 
he kept so close to his desk in his house on Harper's 
Hill, that he could not even find time enough to go out 
to Soho and see what had been doing in his absence. 
At length he felt so exhausted by the brain-work and 
confinement that he wrote to his partner, " a very little 
more of this hurrying and vexation will knock me 
up altogether." To add to his troubles, letters arrived 
from Tingtang, urging his return to Cornwall, to erect 
the engine, the materials for which had at last arrived. 
" I fancy," said Watt, " that I must be cut in pieces, and 
a portion sent to every tribe in Israel." 

After four month's labour of this sort, during which 
seven out of the ten engines then in hand were finished 
and erected, and the others well advanced, Watt again 
set out for Cornwall, which he reached by the beginning 
of June, 1778. He took up his residence at Eedruth, as 
being more convenient for Tingtang than Chacewater, 
hiring a house at Plengwarry, a hamlet on the out- 
skirts of the town. Eedruth is the capital of the mining 
districts of Camborne, Eedruth, and Gwennap. It is 
an ancient town, consisting for the most part of a long 
street, which runs down one hill and up another. 

All round it the country seems to have been disem- 
bowelled ; and heaps of scoriae, " deads," rubbish, and 
granite blocks cover the surface. The view from the 
lofty eminence of Cam Brea, a little to the south of 
Eedruth, strikingly shows the scarified and apparently 
blasted character of the district, and affords a prospect 
the like of which is rarely to be seen. 




On making inquiry as to the materials which had 
arrived during his absence, Watt was much mortified to 
find that the Soho workmen had made many mistakes. 
" Forbes's eduction-pipe," he wrote, " is a most vile job, 
and full of holes. The cylinder they have cast for Chace- 
water is still worse, for it will hardly do at all. The 
Soho people have sent here Chacewater eduction-pipe 
instead of Wheal Union ; and the gudgeon pipe has not 
arrived with the nozzles. These repeated disappoint- 
ments," said he, " will undoubtedly ruin our credit in 
the country ; and I cannot stay here to bear the shame 
of such failures of promise/' 

Watt had a hard time of it while in Cornwall, wlmt 


with riding and walking from mine to mine, listening 
to complaints of delay in the arrival of the engines from 
Soho, and detecting and remedying the blunders and 
bad workmanship of his mechanics. Added to which, 
everybody was low-spirited and almost in despair at the 
bad times, ores falling in price, mines filled with water, 
engine-men standing idle, and adventurers bemoaning 
their losses. Another source of anxiety was the serious 
pecuniary embarrassments in which the Soho firm had 
become involved. Boulton had so many concerns going 
that a vast capital was required for the purpose of 
meeting current engagements ; and the engine business, 
instead of relieving him, had hitherto only proved a 
source of additional outlay, and increased his difficulties 
at a time of general commercial depression. He wrote 
Watt, urging him to send remittances for the Cornish 
engines ; but the materials, though partly delivered, w r ere 
not erected ; and the miners demurred to paying on 
account until they were fixed complete and at work. 
Boulton then suggested to Watt that he should try to 
obtain an advance from the Truro bankers, on security 
of the engine materials. " No," replied Watt, " that 
cannot be done, as the knowledge of our difficulties 
would damage our position in Cornwall, and hurt our 
credit. Besides," said he, "no one can be more cautious 
than a Cornish banker ; and the principal of the firm 
you name is himself exceedingly distressed for money." l 
Nor was there the least chance, in Watt's opinion, even 
if they had the money to advance, of their accepting 
any security that Boulton and Watt had to offer. " Such 
is the nature of the people here," said he, " and so little 
faith have they in our engine, that very few of them 
believe it to be materially better than the ordinary one, 
and so far as I can judge, no one I have conversed with 
would advance us 500/. on a mortgage of it." 2 

All that Watt could do was to recommend that the 

1 Watt to Eoulton, 2nd July, 1778. I - Watt to Boulton, 8th July, 1778, 
Boulton MSS. Boulton MSS. 


evil day should be staved off as long as possible, or at 
all events until the large engines he was then erecting 
were at work, when he believed their performances 
would effect a complete change in the views of the 
adventurers. The only suggestion he could offer was 
to invite John Wilkinson, or some other moneyed 
man, to join them as partner and relieve them of their 
difficulties ; for " rather than founder at sea," said he, 
"we had better run ashore." 1 Meanwhile, he urged 
Boulton to apply the pruning-knife and cut down ex- 
penses, assuring him that he himself was practising all 
the frugality in his power. But as Watt's personal 
expenses at the time did not amount to 2/. a week, it is 
clear that any savings he could effect, however justifiable 
and laudable, were but a drop in the ocean compared 
with the liabilities to be met, and which must be pro- 
vided without delay to avoid insolvency and ruin. 

Fothergill, Boulton' s other partner, was even more 
desponding than Watt. When Boulton left Soho on 
his journeys to raise ways and means, Fothergill pur- 
sued him with dolorous letters, telling him of mails 
that had arrived without remittances, of bills that must 
be met, of wages that must be paid on Saturday night, 
and of the impending bankruptcy of the firm, which he 
again and again declared to be " inevitable." " Better 
stop payment at once," said he, " call our creditors toge- 
ther, and face the worst, than go on in this neck-and- 
neck race with ruin." Boulton would hurry back to 
Soho, to quiet Fothergill, and keep the concern going ; 
on which another series of letters would pour in upon 
him from Mr. Matthews, the London financial agent, 
pressing for remittances, and reporting the increasingly 
gloomy and desperate state of affairs. 

Boulton himself was, as usual, equal to the occasion. 
His courage and determination rose in proportion to the 

1 Watt to Boulton, 8th July, 1778. Boulton MSS. 




difficulties to be overcome. He was borne up by his in- 
vincible hope, by his unswerving purpose, and above all 
by his unshaken belief in the commercial value of the 
condensing" engine. If they could only weather the storm 
until its working powers could be fully demonstrated, 
all would yet be well. 

In illustration of his hopefulness, we may mention 
that in the midst of his troubles a fire took place in the 
engine-room at Soho, which was happily extinguished, 
but not before it had destroyed the roof and done serious 
damage to the engine, which was brought to a stand- 
still. Boulton had long been desirous of rebuilding the 
engine-house in a proper manner, but had been hindered 
by Watt, who was satisfied with alterations merely suf- 
ficient to accommodate the place to the changes made 
from time to time in the engine which he called 
"Beelzebub." 1 On hearing of the damage done by the 
fire, Boulton, instead of lamenting over it, exclaimed, 
" Now I shall be able at last to have the engine-house 
built as it should be." 

After many negotiations, Boulton at length succeeded 

1 While in Cornwall in the previous 
year, Watt wrote long letters to his 
partner as to certain experimental 
alterations of " Beelzebub." This was 
the original engine brought from 
Kinneil, which continued to be the 
subject of constant changes. " I send 
a drawing," he wrote on the 4th 
August, 1777, " of the best scheme I 
can at present devise for equalising 
the power of Beelzebub, and obliging 
him to save part of his youthful 
strength to help him forward in his 
old age. ... As the head of one of 
the levers will rise higher than the 
roof, a hole must be cut for it, which 
may after trial be covered over. If 
the new beam answer to be centred 
upon the end wall and to go out at a 
window, it will make the execution 
easy. ... I long (he concluded) to 
have some particulars of Beelzebub's 
doings, and to learn whether he has ' 

got on his jockey coat yet [i. e. an 
outer cylinder], for till that be done, 
you can form no idea of his perfection." 
The engine continued to be the subject 
of repeated alterations, and was re- 
newed, as Watt observed, like the 
Highlandman's gun, in stock, lock, and 
barrel. After the occurrence of the 
above fire, we learn from Watt's 
MS. Memoir of Boulton, that " Beelze- 
bub " was replaced by a larger engine, 
the first on the expansive principle, 
afterwards known by tlie name of 
"Old Bess." This engine continued 
in its place long after the career of 
Boulton and Watt had come to an 
end ; and in the year 1857, the present 
writer saw "Old Bess" working as 
steadily as ever, though eighty years 
had passed over her head. The old 
engine has since found an honourable 
asylum in the Museum of Patents at 
South Kensington. 



in raising a sum of 7000/. by granting a Mr. Wiss 
security for the payment of an annuity, while the 
London bankers, Lowe, Yere, and Williams, allowed 
an advance of 14,000/. on security of a mortgage 
granted by Boulton and Watt on the royalties derived 
from the engine patent, and of all their rights and privi- 
leges therein. Though the credit of the house was thus 
saved, the liabilities of Boulton and his partners con- 
tinued to press heavily upon them for a long time to 
come. Meanwhile, however, a gleam of light came from 
Cornwall. Watt sent the good news to Soho that " both 
Chacewater and Tingtang engines go on exceedingly 
well, and give great satisfaction. Chacewater goes 14 
strokes of 9 foot long per minute, and burns about 128 
bushels per 24 hours. The water has sunk 12 fathoms 
in the mine, and the engine will fork [i. e. pump out] 
the first lift this night. No cross nor accident of any 
note has happened, except the bursting of a pump at 
Tingtang, which was soon repaired." Four days later 
Watt wrote, " The engines are both going very well, 
and Chacewater has got the water down 18 \ fathoms; 
but after this depth it must make slower progress, as 
a very large house of water begins there, and the feeders 
grow stronger as we go deeper." 1 

Watt looked upon the Chacewater trial as the experi- 
mentum crucis, and continued to keep his partner duly 
informed of every circumstance connected with it. 
" They say," he wrote, " that if the new engine can fork 
the water from Chacewater, it can fork anything, as that 
is the heaviest to fork in the whole county." On the 
15th of August he wrote, " Chacewater is now down to 
10 fathoms of the second lift, and works steady and 
well ; it sinks 9 feet per day. Chacewater people in 
high spirits : Captain Mayor furiously in love with the 
engine." On the 29th he wrote again, "Chacewater 

1 Watt to Boulton, 8th August, 1778. Boulton MSS. 


engine is our capital card, for should it succeed in forking 
this mine all doubts will then be removed." The ad- 
venturers of the great Poldice mine watched the opera- 
tions at Chace water with much interest. Two common 
engines, pumping night and day for months, had failed 
to clear their mine of water ; and now they thought of 
ordering one of the new engines to take their place ; 
" but all this," said Watt, " depends on the success of 
Chace water, which God protect: it is now down 31^ 
fathoms, and will be in fork of this lift to-morrow, when 
it is to be put down three fathoms lower, and fixed 
there." On the 17th he wrote, " I have been at Chace- 
water to-day, where they are in fork of the second lift 
34^ fathoms. The great connexion-rod still unbalanced. 
The engine went yesterday 14 strokes per minute. To- 
morrow I go to Wheal Union, and on Saturday to Truro, 
to meet Poldice adventurers. . . . By attending to the 
business of this county alone," said he, " we may at least 
live comfortably ; for I cannot suppose that less than 
twelve engines will be wanted in two or three years, 
but after that very few more, as these will be sufficient 
to get ore enough ; though you cannot reckon the average 
profits to us at above 200/. per engine." 

When Boulton and Watt first started the manu- 
facture of steam-engines, they were mainly concerned 
to get orders, and were not very particular as to the 
terms on which they were obtained. But when the 
orders increased, and the merits of the invention gra- 
dually became recognised, they found it necessary to re- 
quire preliminary agreements to be entered into as to 
the terms on which the patent was to be used. It 
occurred to them, that as one of its principal merits 
consisted in the saving of fuel, it would be a fair 
arrangement to take one-third of the value of such 
saving by way of royalty, leaving the owners of the 
engines to take the benefit of the remaining two- 
thirds. Nothing could be fairer than the spirit of 

K 2 



this arrangement, which, it will be seen, was of even 
more advantage to the owners of the engines than to 
the patentees themselves. The first Cornish engines 
were, however, erected without any* condition as to 
terms ; and it was only after they had proved their 
power by " forking " the water, and sending the miners 
twenty fathoms deeper into the ground, that the ques- 
tion of terms was raised. Watt proposed that agree- 
ments should be entered into on the basis above indicated. 
But the Cornish men did not see the use of agreements. 
They had paid for the engines, which were theirs, and 
Boulton and Watt could not take them away. Here was 
the beginning of a long series of altercations, which 
ended only with the patent right itself. The miners 
could not do without the engine. It was admitted to 
be of immense value to them, rendering many of their 
mines workable that would otherwise have been value- 
less. But why should they have to pay for the use 
of such an invention ? This was what they never could 
clearly understand. 

To prevent misunderstandings in future, Watt wrote 
to Boulton, recommending that no further orders for 
engines should be taken unless the terms for using 
them were definitely settled beforehand. " You must 
excuse me," he added, " when I tell you that, for my 
part, I will not put pen to paper [i. e. make the requi- 
site drawings] on a new subject until that is done. 
Until an engine is ordered, our power is greater than 
that of the Lord Chancellor ; as I believe even he cannot 
compel us to make it unless we choose. Let our terms 
be moderate, and, if possible, consolidated into money 
a priori, and it is certain we shall get some money, 
enough to keep us out of jail, in continual apprehension 
of which I live at present." l 

1 Watt to Boulton, 29th August, 
1778. Later, Watt wrote from Eed- 
rutli, " Captain Paul desires me to 

attend at Wheal Virgin meeting on 
Thursday, where several Tingtang 
people will he; hut I shall only 


To meet the case, a form of agreement was drawn up 
and required to be executed before any future engine 
was commenced. It usually provided that an engine of 
certain given dimensions and power was to be erected 
at the expense of the owners of the mine ; and that the 
patentees were to take as their recompense for the use 
of their invention, one-third of the value of the fuel saved 
by it compared with the consumption of the ordinary 
engine. It came to be understood that the saving of 
fuel was to be estimated according to the number of 
strokes made. To ascertain this, Watt contrived an in- 
genious piece of clockwork, termed the Counter, which, 
being attached to the main beam, accurately marked and 
registered, under lock and key, the number of its vibra- 
tions. Thus the work done was calculated, and the 
comparative saving of fuel was ascertained. 

Though the Cornish miners had been full of doubts 
as to the successful working of Watt's engine, they 
could not dispute the evidence of their senses after it 
had been erected and was fairly at work. There it 
was, "forking water" as never engine before had been 
known to " fork." It had completely mastered the 
water at Wheal Busy ; and if it could send the work- 
men down that mine, it could in like manner send them 
down elsewhere. Wheal Virgin was on the point of 
stopping work, in which case some two thousand per- 
sons would be thrown out of bread. Bonze's new atmo- 
spheric engine had proved a failure, and the mine con- 
tinued flooded. It had also failed at Poldice, which was 

write, as I know they will be just in 
the worst of humours about Wheal 
Virgin affairs, and they are very dis- 
agreeable at the best. Every article 
must be settled and sealed with 
Cornish adventures before we begin, 
otherwise never. . . Do not let Chelsea 
begin until signed arid sealed. I hope 
you will not take amiss my writing so 

ments ; but really my faith in man- 
kind will carry me no further, and if 
I can't get money, I'm resolved to 
save my bacon and to live in hunger 
and ease. As it is, we don't get such 
a share of reputation as our works 
deserve, for every man who cheats us 
defames us in order to justify himself." 
Watt to Boulton, 6th September, 

positively on this subject of agree- 1778. Boulton MSS. 




drowned out. " Notwithstanding the violence and pre- 
judice against us," wrote Watt, " nothing can save the 
mines but our engines .... Even the infidels of Dal- 
coath are now obliquely inquiring after our terms ! 
Cook's Kitchen, which communicates with it, has been 
drowned out some time." Watt, accordingly, had 
many applications about engines ; and on that account 
he entreated his partner to come to his help. He con- 
tinued to hate all negotiating about terms, and it did 
not seem as if he would ever learn to like it. He had 
neither the patience to endure, nor the business tact to 
conduct a negotiation. He wanted confidence in him- 
self, and did not feel equal to make a bargain. He 
would almost as soon have wrestled with the Cornish 
miners as higgled with them. They were shrewd, prac- 
tical men, rough in manner and speech, yet honest 
withal ; * but Watt would not encounter them when he 
could avoid it. Hence his repeated calls to Boulton to 
come and help him. Writing to him about the proposed 
Wheal Virgin engine, he said, "Before I make any 
bargain with these people, I must have you here." A 
few days after, when communicating the probability of 
obtaining an order for the Poldice engine, he wrote, 
" I wish you would dispose yourself for a journey here, 
and strike while this iron is hot." A fortnight later he 
said, " Poldice people are now welding hot, and must 
not be suffered to cool. They are exceedingly impatient, 
as they lose 150/. a month until our engine is going . . . 
I hope this will find you ready to come away. .At 
Bedruth, inquire for Plengwarry Green, where you 
will find me." 

Boulton must have been greatly harassed by the 

1 " With all the faults of the Cor- 
nish people, I think we have a better 
chance for tolerable honesty here than 
elsewhere, as, their meetings being 
public, they will not choose to expose 

themselves any further than strict 
dealing may justify ; and besides, there 
are generally too many to cabal." 
Watt to Boulton, 29th August, 1778. 
Boulton MSS. 




woes of his partners. Fothergill was still uttering 
lamentable prophecies of impending ruin ; his only 
prospect of relief being in the success of the engine. 
He urged Boulton to endeavour to raise money by the 
sale of engine contracts or annuities, in order to avert 
a crash. Matthews, the London agent, also continued 
to represent the still urgent danger of the house, and 
pressed Boulton to go to Cornwall and try to raise money 
there upon his engine contracts. Indeed, it was clear 
that the firm of Boulton and Fothergill had been losing 
money by their business for several years past ; and 
that, unless the engine succeeded, they must, ere long, 
go to the wall. But when Boulton turned to Corn- 
wall, he found little comfort. Though the engines there 
were successful, Watt could not raise money upon them. 
The adventurers were poor, were for the most part 
losing by their ventures, in consequence of the low 
price of the ore ; and they almost invariably put off 
payment by excuses. Thus, while Boulton was in 
London trying to obtain accommodation from his 
bankers, the groans of his partner in Birmingham were 
more than re-echoed by the lamentations of his other 
partner in Cornwall, who rang the changes of misery 
through all the notes of the gamut. 

At length, about the beginning of October, 1778, 
Boulton contrived to make his long-promised journey 
into Cornwall. 1 He went round among the mines, and 
had many friendly conferences with the managers. He 
found the engine had grown in public favour, and that 
the impression prevailed throughout the mining dis- 
tricts that it would before long become generally 
adopted. Encouraged by his London financial agent, 
he took steps to turn this favourable impression to 

1 During his absence Mr. Keir took 
charge of the works at Soho. It had 
been intended to introduce him as a 
partner, and he left the glass-making 
concern at Stourbridge, into which he 

had entered, for the purpose ; but when 
he came to look into the books of 
the Soho firm, he was so appalled by 
their liabilities that he eventually de- 
clined the connexion. 




account. 1 Before he left Cornwall, where he remained 
until the end of the year, he succeeded in borrowing 
a sum of 2000/. from Elliot and Praed, the Truro 
bankers, on security of the engines erected in the 
county ; and the money was at once forwarded to 
the London agents for the relief of the Birmingham 
firm. He also succeeded in getting the terms definitely 
arranged for the use of several of the more important 
engines erected and at work. It was agreed that 
TOO/, a year should be paid as royalty in respect of 
the Chace water engine, an arrangement even more 
advantageous to the owners of the mine than to the 
patentees, as it was understood that the saving of coals 
amounted to upwards of 2400/. a year. Other agree- 
ments were entered into for the use of the engines 
erected at Wheal Union and Tingtang, which brought 
in about 400/. per annum more, so that the harvest of 
profits seemed at length fairly begun. 

Watt remained at Cornwall for another month, plod- 
ding at Poldice and Wheal Virgin engines, and returned 
to Birmingham early in January, 1779. Though the 
pumping-engine had thus far proved remarkably suc- 
cessful, and accomplished all that Watt had promised, he 
was in no better spirits than before. " Though we have, 
in general, succeeded in our undertakings," he wrote 

1 Matthews wrote him on the 8th 
October, 1778, that he had met a Mr. 
Boldero at the Goldsmiths' Hall, who 
had much influence in Cornwall, and 
that he expressed the opinion that, if 
the engines could do what Boulton 
and Watt promised, they might soon 
get from 40,0002. to 80,000?. for them 
in Cornwall. Matthews accordingly 
recommended Boulton to apply to 
Elliot and Praed, the Cornish bankers, 
for an advance on security of the 
engine contracts. It would appear 
from a letter written to Boulton a few 
days later, by Mr. Barton, Matthews's 
partner, that Boulton was, amidst his 
many- speculations, engaged in a priva- 
teering adventure during the war of 

the American Revolution : " It may 
give you some pleasure," wrote Barton, 
" to hear we are likely to receive some 
produce from our adventure to New 
York. One of the vessels our little 
brig took last year was fitted out at 
New York, and in a cruise of 13 weeks 
has taken 13 prizes, 12 of which are 
carried safe in, and we have advice of 
200 hogsheads of tobacco being shipped 
as part of the prizes, which, if now 
here, would fetch us 10,0002. But 
while the embargo on shipping at 
New York continues, they cannot stir 
out of port. However, / think we 
shall see them before you raise that 
sum from your engine concern, and 
yet I hope that is not very far off" 


Dr. Black, " yet that success has, from various unavoid- 
able circumstances, produced small profits to us ; the 
struggles we have had with natural difficulties, and with 
the ignorance, prejudices, and villanies of mankind, 
have been very great, but I hope are now nearly come 
to an end, or vanquished." l His difficulties were not, 
however, nearly at an end, as the heavy liabilities of 
the firm had still to be met. More money had to be 
borrowed ; and Watt continued to groan under his in- 
tolerable burden. " The thought of the debt to Lowe, 
Vere, and Co.," he wrote to his partner, " lies too heavy 
on my mind to leave me the proper employment of my 
faculties in the prosecution of our business ; and, besides, 
common honesty will prevent me from loading the scheme 
with debts which might be more than it could pay." 2 

A more hopeful man would have borne up under 
these difficulties ; for the reputation of the engine was 
increasing, and orders were coming in from various 
quarters. Soho was full of work ; and, provided their 
credit could be maintained, it was clear that the under- 
taking on which the firm had entered could not fail to 
prove remunerative. Watt could not see this, but his 
partner did ; and Boulton accordingly strained every 
nerve to keep up the character of the concern. While 
Watt was urging upon him to curtail the business,- 
Boulton sought in all ways to extend it. He sent 
accounts of his marvellous engines abroad, and orders for 
them came in from France 3 and Holland. Watt was 

1 Watt to Black, 12th December, 

2 Watt to Boulton, 15th Jan., 1779. 
8 M. Perrier, of Paris, ordered an 

engine early in 1779, and the mate- 
rials were despatched to Nantes by the 
end of May in the same year. The 
engine was erected by M. Jary at a 
colliery near Nantes, but the fitting 
was so bad the steam-case having 
been forgotten that it went only four 
strokes per minute. As Boulton and 

Watt sought a patent for France, it ported from Soho. 

was necessary in the first place that 
Commissioners should certify that the 
new engine was superior to the common 
engine. This they could not do, and 
the patent was not secured. Watt 
feared that there was " a plot " against 
him ; as Perrier immediately proceeded 
with a manufacture of steam-engines 
after the alleged invention of M. 
Betancourt, though this " invention " 
turned out to be a close copy of the 
engine M. Betancourt liimself had im- 


more alarmed than gratified by the foreign orders, , 
fearing that the engine would be copied and exten- 
sively manufactured abroad, where patents had not yet 
been secured. He did not see that the best protection 
of all was in the superiority of his tools and mechanics, 
enabling first-class work to be turned out, important 
advantages, in which the Soho firm had the start of the 
world. It is true his mechanics were liable to be 
bribed, and foreigners were constantly haunting Soho 
for the purpose of worming out the secrets of the manu- 
facture, and decoying away the best men. Against 
this every precaution was taken, though sometimes in 
vain. Two Prussian engineers came over from Berlin 
in 1779, to whom Watt showed every attention; after 
which, in his absence, they got into the engine-room, 
and carefully examined all the details of " Old Bess," 
making notes. When Watt returned, he was in high 
dudgeon, and wrote to his partner that he "could not 
help it unless by discountenancing every foreigner who 
does not come avowedly to have an engine." l 

Their principal reliance, however, was necessarily 011 
home orders, and these came in satisfactorily. Eight 
more engines were wanted for Cornwall, those already 
at work continuing to give satisfaction. Inquiries were 
also made about pumping engines for collieries in 
different parts of England. But where coals were cheap, 
and the saving of fuel was of less consequence, the 
patentees were not solicitous for orders unless the pur- 
chasers would fix a fair sum for the patent right, or 
rate the coals used at a price that would be remune- 
rative in proportion to the savings effected. The 
orders were, indeed, becoming so numerous, that the 
firm, beginning to feel their power, themselves fixed 
the annual royalty, though it was not always so easy 
to get it paid. 

1 Watt to Boulton, 27th January, 1779. Boulton MSS. 


The working power of Watt himself was but limited. 
He still continued to suffer from intense headaches ; and, 
as all the drawings of new engines were made by his 
own hands, it was necessary in some measure to limit 
the amount of work undertaken. " I beg," he wrote to 
his partner in May, 1779, relative to proposals made for 
two new engines, "that you will not undertake to do 
anything for them before Christmas. It is, in fact, 
impossible, at least on my part ; I am quite crushed." 
But he was not always so dispirited, for in the following 
month we find him writing Boulton an exultant letter, 
announcing orders for three new engines from Corn- 
wall. 1 

Watt continued for some time longer to suffer great 
annoyance from the shortcomings of his workmen. 
He was himself most particular in giving his instruc- 
tions, verbally, in writing, and in drawings. When he 
sent a workman to erect an engine, he sent with him 
a carefully drawn up detail of the step by step pro- 
ceedings he was to adopt in fitting the parts together. 
Where there was a difficulty, and likely to be a hitch, 
he added a pen and ink drawing, rapid but graphic, and 
pointed out how the difficulty was to be avoided. It 
was not so easy, however, to find workmen capable of 
intelligently fitting together the parts of a machine so 
complicated and of so novel a construction. Moreover, 
the first engines were in a great measure experimental, 
and to have erected them perfectly, and provided by an- 
ticipation for their various defects, would have argued 
a knowledge of the principles of their construction 
almost as complete as that of Watt himself. He was 
not sufficiently disposed to make allowances for the work- 

We make them a present of 100 guineas 
Peace and good-fellowship on earth 

1 The following is Watt's letter, 
written in a very unusual style : 

" Birmingham, June 30th, 1779. J 1 "" and Evans *? " c . ^"^- 

Hallelujah ! "Hallelujee ! n T* ^T T i '" C 

We have concluded witl, Hawkesburv, Oudle y ""P 011 * 81 " 11 and { ' m endant- 
21 7f. per annum from Lady-day last ; Yours rejoicing, 

275^. 5s. for time past ; 157/. on account. JAMES WATT.'' 



men's want of knowledge and want of experience, and 
his letters were accordingly full of complaints of their 
shortcomings. He was especially annoyed with the 
mistakes of a foreman, named Hall, who had sent the 
wrong articles to Cornwall, and he urged Boulton to 
dismiss him at once. . But Boulton knew better. Though 
Watt understood engines, he did not so well understand 
men. Had Boulton dismissed such as Hall because they 
made mistakes, the shop would soon have been empty. 
The men were as yet but at school, learning experience, 
and Boulton knew that in course of time they would 
acquire dexterity. He was ready to make allowance for 
their imperfections, but at the same time he did not 
abate in his endeavours to find out and engage the best 
hands, wherever they were to be found in Wales, in 
Cornwall, or in Scotland. He therefore kept on Hall, 
notwithstanding Watt's protest, and the latter sub- 
mitted. 1 

Watt was equally wroth with the enginemen at Bed- 
worth. " I beg and expect," he wrote Boulton, " that so 
soon as everything is done to that engine, you will in- 
stantly proceed to trial before creditable witnesses, and 
if possible have the whole brood of these enginemen 
displaced, if any others can be procured ; for nothing 
but slovenliness, if not malice, is to be expected of 
them." It must, however, be acknowledged that the 
Bedworth engine was at first very imperfect, having 
been made of bad iron, in consequence of which it fre- 
quently broke down. In Cornwall the men were no 
better. Dudley, Watt's erector at Wheal Chance and 

1 Watt wrote Boulton, 2nd July, 
1778," On the subject of Mr. Hall 
I should not have been so earnest 
had I not been urged on by the pro- 
spect of impending ruin, which may 
be much accelerated by a wicked or 
careless servant in his place." Later, 

on the 6th August, Watt wrote, " I 
look upon Hall as a very great blun- 
derer, and very inattentive to every- 
thing that has hitherto been committed 
to his care ; but I think that our pre- 
sent necessities will oblige us to em- 
ploy him." Boulton MSS. 




Hallamanin, was pronounced incapable and a blunderer. 
" If something be not very bad in London, I wish you 
would employ Hadley to finish those engines, and send 
Joseph here to receive his instructions and proceed to 
Cornwall, otherwise Dudley will ruin us." ] 

The trusty " Joseph " was accordingly despatched to 
Cornwall to look after Dudley, and remedy the defects 
in Wheal Chance and Hallamanin engines ; but when 
Watt arrived at Chace water shortly after, he found that 
Joseph, too, had proved faithless. He wrote to Boulton, 
" Joseph has pursued his old practice of drinking in the 
neighbourhood in a scandalous manner, until the very 

enginemeii turned him into ridicule I have not 

heard how he behaved in the west; but that he gave 
the ale there a bad character." 2 Notwithstanding, how- 
ever, his love of strong potations, Joseph was a first-rate 
workman. Two days later, Watt wrote, " Though 
Joseph has attended to his drinking, he has done much 
good at his leisure hours, and has certainly prevented 
much mischief at Hallamanin and some at Wheal Union. 
He has had some hard and long jobs, and consequently 
merits some indulgence for his foibles." By the end of 
the month " Joseph had conquered Hallamanin engine, 
all but the boiler," but Watt added, "His indulgence 
has brought on a slight fit of the jaundice, and as soon 
as the engine is finished, he must be sent home." 3 

By this time Watt had called to his aid two other 
skilled workmen, Law and Murdock, who arrived in 
Cornwall in the beginning of September, 1779. In 
Watt's letters we find frequent allusions to Murdock. 
Wherever any work had to be done requiring more 
than ordinary attention, Watt specially directed that 
" William " should be put to it. " Let William be sent 

1 Watt to Boulton, llth August, 

2 Watt to Boulton, 4th October, 


3 Watt to Boulton, 28th October, 


for from Bedworth," he wrote from Cornwall in 1778, 
" to set the patterns for nozzles quite right for Poldice." 
Boulton wished to send him into Scotland to erect the 
engine at Wenlockhead, but Watt would not hear of it. 
" William " was the only man he could trust with the 
nozzles. Then William was sent to London to take the 
charge of Chelsea engine ; next to Bedworth, to see to 
the completion of the repairs previous to the final trial ; 
then to Birmingham again to attend to some further 
special instructions of Watt ; and now we find him in 
Cornwall, to take charge of the principal engines 
erecting there. 

William Murdock was not only a most excellent and 
steady workman, but a man of eminent mechanical 
genius. He was the first maker of a model locomotive 
in this country ; he was the introducer of lighting by 
gas, and the inventor of many valuable parts of the 
working steam-engine, hereafter to be described. His 
father was a millwright and miller, at Bellow Mill, near 
Old Cumnock, in Ayrshire, and was much esteemed for 
his probity and industry, as well as for his mechanical 
skill. He was the inventor of bevelled cast-iron gear 
for mills, and his son was proud to exhibit, on the lawn 
in front of his house at Sycamore Hill, Handsworth, a 
piece of the first work of the kind executed in Britain. 
It was cast for him at Carron Ironworks, after the pat- 
tern furnished by him, in 1766. William was born in 
1754, and brought up to his father's trade. On arriving 
at manhood, he became desirous of obtaining a larger 
experience of mill-work and mechanics than he could 
acquire in his father's little mill. Hearing of the fame 
of Boulton and Watt, and the success of their new 
engine, he determined to travel south, and seek for a 
job at Soho. Many Scotchmen were accustomed to call 
there on the same errand, probably relying on the 
known clanship of their countrymen, and thinking that 
they would find a friend and advocate in Watt. But 


strange to say, Watt did not think Scotchmen capable 
of becoming first-class mechanics. 1 

When Murdock called at Soho, in the year 1777, to 
ask for a job, Watt was from home, but he saw Boulton, 
who was usually accessible to callers of every rank. In 
answer to Murdock's inquiry whether he could have a 
job, Boulton replied that work was rather slack with 
them then, and that every place was filled up. During 
the brief conversation that ensued, the blate young 
Scotchman, like most country lads in the presence of 
strangers, had some difficulty in knowing what to do 
with his hands, and unconsciously kept twirling his hat 
with them. Boulton' s attention was directed to the 
twirling hat, which seemed to be of a peculiar make. It 
was not a felt hat, nor a cloth hat, nor a glazed hat ; 
but it seemed to be painted, and composed of some un- 
usual material. " That seems to be a curious sort of 
hat," said Boulton, looking at it more closely ; " why, 
what is it made of ? " " Timmer, sir," said Murdock, 
modestly. " Timmer ! Do you mean to say that it is 
made of wood ? " " Yes, sir." " Pray, how was it made ? " 
" I turned it mysel', sir, in a bit lathey of my own 
making." Boulton looked at the young man again. 
He had risen a hundred degrees in his estimation. He 
was tall, good-looking, and of open and ingenuous coun- 
tenance ; and that he had been able to turn a wooden 
hat for himself in a lathe of his own making was proof 
enough that he was a mechanic of no mean skill. " You 

1 Watt told Sir Walter Scott that the workmen." Note to Lockhart's 
though hundreds probably of his ' Life of Scott.' The fact, we suppose 
northern countrymen had sought em- j was, that the Scotch mechanics were 
ployment at his establishment, he , only as yet in course of training, the 
never could get one of them to become a ! English having had a long start of 
first-rate mechanic. " Many of them," | them. Though Watt's statement that 
said he, " were too good for that, and | Scotchmen were incapable of being 
rose to be valuable clerks and book- ! first-class mechanics may have been 
keepers ; but those incapable of this true in his day, it is so no longer, as 
sort of advancement had always the the workshops of the Clyde can prove; 
same insuperable aversion to toiling so some of the most highly finished 
long at any one point of mechanism steam-engines of modern times having 
as to gain the highest wages among been turned out of Glasgow workshops. 


may call again, my man," said Boultoii. " Thank you, 
sir," said Murdock, giving his hat a final twirl. 

When Murdock called again, he was at once put upon 
a trial job, after which he was entered as a regular 
hand. We learn from Boulton's memorandum-book 
that he was engaged for two years, at 1 5s. a week when 
at home, 17.<?. when from home, and 18s. when in Lon- 
don. Boulton's engagement of Murdock was amply 
justified by the result. Beginning as a common me- 
chanic, he applied himself diligently and conscientiously 
to his work, and became trusted. More responsible 
duties were confided to him, and he strove to perform 
them to the best of his power. His industry and his 
skilfulness soon marked him for promotion, and he rose 
from grade to grade until he became Boulton and Watt's 
most trusted co-worker and adviser in all their mecha- 
nical undertakings of importance. 

When Murdock went into Cornwall to take charge 
of the engines, he gave himself no rest until he had 
conquered their defects and put them in thorough 
working order. He devoted himself to his duties 
with a zeal and ability that completely won Watt's 
heart. He was so filled with his work, that when he 
had an important job in hand, he could scarcely sleep 
at nights for thinking of it. When the engine at 
Wheal Union was ready for starting, the people of 
the house at Eedruth, in which Murdock lodged, were 
greatly disturbed one night by a strange noise in his 
room. Several heavy blows on the floor made them 
start from their beds, thinking the house was coming 
down. They rushed to Murdock's room, and there 
was he in his shirt, heaving away at the bed- 
post in his sleep, calling out, " Now she goes, lads ! 
now she goes." 

Murdock was not less successful in making his 
way with the Cornishmen with whom he was brought 
into daily contact; indeed, he fought his way to their 


affections. One day at Chacewater, some half-dozen 
of the mining captains came into the engine-room and 
began bullying him. This he could not stand, and 
adopted a bold expedient. He locked the door, and 
said, " Now, then, you shall not leave this place until 
I have it fairly out with you." He selected the biggest, 
and put himself in a fighting attitude. The Cornishmen 
love fair play, and while the two engaged in battle, the 
others, without interfering, looked on. The contest was 
soon over ; for Murdock was a tall, powerful fellow, 
and speedily vanquished his opponent. The others, 
seeing the kind of man they had to deal with, made 
overtures of reconciliation ; and they shook hands all 
round, and parted the best of friends. 1 

Watt continued to have his differences and alterca- 
tions with the Cornishmen, but he had no such way 
of settling them. Indeed, he was almost helpless 
when he came in contact with rough men of business. 
Most of the mines were then paying very badly, and 
the adventurers raised all sorts of objections to making 
the stipulated payment of the engine dues. Under such 
circumstances, altercations with them took place for 
which Watt was altogether unprepared. He was under 
the apprehension that they were constantly laying their 
heads together for the purpose of taking advantage of 
him and his partner. He never looked on the bright 
side of things, but always on the darkest. " The ras- 
cality of mankind," said he to Dr. Black, "is almost 
beyond belief." Though his views of science were large, 
his views of men were narrow. Much of this may have 
been the result of his recluse habits and closet life, as 
well as of his constant ill-health. With his racking 

1 The above anecdotes, of Murdoch's 
introduction to Soho, and the fight 
with the captains, were communicated 
by his son, the late Mr. Murdock of 
Sycamore Hill near Birmingham. He 
also informed us that Murdock fought 

a duel with Captain Trevi thick (father 
of the Trevithick of Locomotive cele- 
brity), in consequence of a quarrel 
between him and Watt, in which Mur- 
dock conceived his master to have 
been unfairly and harshly treated. 


headaches, it was indeed difficult for him to be cheerful. 
But no one could be more conscious of his own defects 
of his want of tact, his want of business qualities, and 
his want of temper than he was himself. He knew 
his besetting infirmities, from which even the best and 
wisest are not exempt. His greatness was mingled with 
imperfections, and his strength with weakness, else had 
he been more than human. It is riot in the order of 
Providence that the gifts and graces of life should be 
concentrated in any one perfectly adjusted character. 
Even when we inquire into the " Admirable Crichton " 
of biography, and seek to trace his life, it vanishes almost 
into a myth. 

In the midst of his many troubles and difficulties, 
Watt's invariable practice was to call upon Boulton for 
help. Boulton was satisfied to take men as he found 
them, and try to make the best of them. Watt was a 
man of the study ; Boulton a man of the world. Watt 
was a master of machines ; but Boulton, of men. 
Though Watt might be the brain, Boulton was the 
heart of the concern. "If you had been here," wrote 
Watt to Boulton, after one of his disagreeable meetings 
with the adventurers, " If you had been here, and gone 
to that meeting with your cheerful countenance and brave 
heart, perhaps they would not have been so obstinate." 
The scene referred to by Watt occurred at a meeting of 
the Wheal Union Adventurers, at which the savings 
effected by the new engine were to be calculated and 
settled. Here is Watt's own description of the affair, 
and his feelings on the occasion, which will give a good 
idea of the irksomeness of his position, and the disagree- 
able people he had occasionally to encounter : 

" At Wheal Union account our savings were ordered to be charged 
to the interest of Messrs. Edwards and Phillips; but when to be 
paid, God knows ! Bevan said in a month. After all this was 
settled, in came Capt. Trevithick, I believe on purpose, as he came 


late and might have heard that I was gone there. He immediately 
fell foul of our account, in a manner peculiar to himself . . . laboured 
to demonstrate that Dalcoath engines not only surpassed the table, 
but even did more work with the coals than AY heal Union did, and 
concluded' with saying that we had taken or got the advantage of 
the adventurers. I think he first said the former and then hedged 
off by the latter statement. Mr. Phillips defended, and Mr. Edwards, 
I thought, seemed staggered, though candid. Mr. Phillips desired 
the data that he might calculate it over in his way. Mr. Edwards 
slipped away, but I found afterwards that he was in another room 
with Capt. Gundry (who, and Hodge also, behaved exceedingly well 
I believe Gundry to be a very sincere, honest man). I went out 
to speak to Joseph, and on my return found only Trevithick, Be van, 
Hodge, and some others. Soon after, Mr. Edwards called out 
Trevithick to him and Gundry. I heard them very loud, and 
waited their return for an hour ; but they not seeming ready to return, 
night coming on, and feeling myself very uncomfortable, I came away 
so know not what passed further. During all this time, I was so 
confounded with the impudence, ignorance, and overbearing manner 
of the man that I could make no adequate defence, and indeed could 
scarcely keep my temper ; which however I did, perhaps to a fault ; 
for nothing can be more grievous to an ingenuous mind than the 
being suspected or accused of deceit. To mend the matter, it had 
been an exceedingly rainy morning, and I had got a little wet going 
thither, which had rather hurt my spirits. Yesterday I had a 

violent headache and could do nothing Some means must be 

taken to satisfy the country, otherwise this malicious man will hurt 
us exceedingly. The point on which Mr. Edwards seemed to lay 
the most stress was the comparing with a 77^ cylinder, as he 
alleged they would not have put in so large an engine ; and in this 
there is some reason, as I do not think they believed that the engine 
would be so powerful as it is. Add to this, that the mine barely 
pays its way. Trevithick made a great noise about short strokes at 
setting on, &c. The Captains seemed to laugh at that ; and I can 
demonstrate that, were it allowed for, it would not come to 2s. 6d. 
per month. I believe they can be brought to allow that they would 
have put in a 70-inch. Now, query if we ought to allow this to be 
calculated from a 70 (at which it will come to near 400/. a year), 
and on making this concession insist on our having a good pay- 
master to pay regularly once a month, and not be obliged to go like 
beggars to their accounts to seek our due and be insulted by such 
scoundrels into the bargain. As to Hallamanin, they have not met 
yet, and when they do meet, I shall not go to them. ' I cannot bear 
such treatment, but it is not prudent to resent it too warmly just 
now. I believe you must come here. I think fourteen days would 

s 2 




settle matters. Besides my inability to battle such people, I really 
have not time to bestow on them." l 

In subsequent letters Watt continued to urge Boulton 
to come to him. His headaches were constant, unfitting 
him for work. Besides, he could scarcely stir out of 
doors for the rain. " It rains here," said he, " prodi- 
giously. When you come, bring with you a waxed 
linen cloak for yourself, and another for me, as there is 
no going out now for a few miles without getting wet to 
the skin. When it rains in Cornwall, and it rains often, 
it rains solid." 

1 Watt to Boulton, from Chacewatcr, 16th October, 1779. Boulton MSS. 



[By R. P. Leitrh] 




BOULTON again went to Watt's help in Cornwall at the 
end of autumn, 1779. He could not afford to make a 
long stay, but left so soon as he had settled several 
long-pending agreements with the mine proprietors. 
The partners then returned to Birmingham together. 
Before leaving, they installed Lieutenant Henderson as 
their representative, to watch over their interests in 
their absence. Henderson was a sort of Jack-of-all-trades 
and master of none. He had been an officer of marines, 
and afterwards a West India sugar-planter. He lost 
all that he possessed in Jamaica, but gained some know- 
ledge of levelling, draining, and machinery. He was 
also a bit of an inventor, and first introduced himself 
to Boulton's notice by offering to sell him a circular 




motion by steam which he alleged he had discovered. 
This led to a correspondence, which resulted in his en- 
gagement to travel for the firm, and to superintend the 
erection of engines when necessary. 

Henderson experienced the same difficulty that Watt 
had done in managing the adventurers, and during his 
stay in Cornwall he was never done calling upon Boulton 
to hasten to his assistance and help him, as he said, " to 
put them in good spirits and good temper." As the 
annual meetings drew near, Henderson anticipated a 
stormy time of it, and pleaded harder than ever for 
Boulton to come to him. It seemed as if it would be 
necessary for Boulton to take up his residence in Corn- 
wall ; and as the interests at stake were great, it might 
be worth his while to do so. By the summer of 1780, 
Boulton and Watt had made and sold forty pumping- 
engines, of which number twenty were erected and at 
work in different parts of Cornwall ; and it was gene- 
rally expected that before long there would scarcely be 
an engine of the old construction at work in the county. 
This was, in fact, the only branch of Boulton's extensive 
concerns that promised to be remunerative. 1 He had 
become loaded with a burden of debt, from which the 
success of the engine-business seemed to offer the only 
prospect of relief. 

Boulton's affairs seemed indeed fast approaching to a 
crisis. He had. raised money in all directions to carry 
on his extensive concerns. He had sold the Patkington 
estate, which came to him by his wife, to Lord Donegal, 
for 15,OOQ/. ; he had sold the greater part of his father's 
property, and raised further sums by mortgaging the 
remainder ; he had borrowed largely from Day, 2 Wedg- 

1 It appears from a statement pre- 
pared by Zaccheus Walker, the ac- 
countant of Boulton and Fothergill, 
that on an invested capital of about 
20,0001., the excess of losses over 
profits during the eighteen years 

ending 1780, had been upwards of 
11,000?. ; and that but for the capital 
and credit of Matthew Boulton, that 
concern must have broken down. 

2 Thomas Day, the eccentric but 
kindly author of ' Sandford and 




wood, and others of his personal friends, and obtained 
heavy advances from his bankers ; but all this was found 
insufficient, and his embarrassments seemed only to in- 
crease. Watt could do nothing to help him with money, 
though he had consented to the mortgage of the steam- 
engine royalties to Mr. Wiss, by which the sum of 7000^. 
had been raised. This liability lay heavy on the mind 
of Watt, who could never shake himself free of the 
horror of having incurred such a debt ; and many were 
the imploring letters that he addressed to Boulton on 
the subject. "I beg of you," said he, "to attend to 
these money affairs. I cannot rest in my bed until they 
[i.e. the mortgage and banker's advance] have some 
determinate form. I beg you will pardon my impor- 
tunity, but I cannot bear the uneasiness of my own 
mind, and it is as much your interest as mine to have 
them settled." 1 

The other partner, Fothergill, was quite as down- 
hearted. He urged that the firm of Boulton and 
Fothergill should at once stop payment and wind up ; 
but as this would have seriously hurt the credit of the 
engine firm, Boulton would not listen to the suggestion. 
They must hold on as they had done before, until better 
days came round. Fothergill recommended that at least 
the unremunerative branches of the business should be 

Merton,' lent Boulton 3000Z. at 4 per 
cent. When Boulton came to pay a 
higher rate of interest on other loans, 
he wrote Day proposing to pay him 
the same rate; but Day refused to 
accept the advance, as he could not 
make more of his money elsewhere. 
Day, however, offered him some good 
advice. " Give me leave," said he, 
" with the real interest of a sincere 
friend, to express my wishes that now 
at last when a fortune is within your 
power, you will contract that wide 
sphere of business in which your in- 
genuity has so long kept you engaged, 
and which has prevented you hitherto, 
if I mav believe the words of one of 

your sincerest friends, the late Dr. 
Small, from acquiring that independ- 
ence which you ought to have had long 
ago. I should think that now, like a 
good Christian, thoroughly convinced 
of the inutility of other works, you 
ought to attach yourself to the one 
thing needful, and determine to be 
saved ' even as by fire.' You are now, 
dear Sir, not of an age to sport any 
longer with fortune. Forgive the 
freedom of these sentiments, and 
believe me, with the greatest sincerity 
and regard, Yours, &c., 


1 Watt to Boulton, 20th January, 




brought to a close. The heaviest losses had indeed been 
sustained through Fothergill himself, whose foreign 
connexions, instead of being of advantage to the firm, 
had proved the reverse ; and Mr. Matthews, the London 
agent, repeatedly pressed Boulton to decline further 
transactions with foreigners. 

There was one branch of the Boulton and Fothergill 
business which Boulton at once agreed to give up. 
This was the painting and japanning business ; by 
which, as appears from a statement prepared by Mr. 
Walker, now before us, the firm were losing at the rate 
of 500/. a year. 

The picture-painting business seems to have been 
begun in 1777, and was carried on for some years under 
the direction of Mr. Eginton, who afterwards achieved 
considerable reputation at Birmingham as a manufac- 
turer of painted glass. A degree of interest has been 
recently raised on the subject of the Soho pictures, 
in consequence of the statements hazarded as to the 
method by which they are supposed to have been pro- 
duced. It has been surmised that they were taken by 
some process resembling photography. We have, how- 
ever, been unable to find anything in the correspond- 
ence of the firm calculated to support this view. On 
the contrary, they are invariably spoken of as " mecha- 
nical paintings," " pictures," or " prints," produced by 
means of " paints " or " colours." Though the precise 
process by which they were produced is not now known, 
there seems reason to believe that they were impressions 
from plates prepared in a peculiar manner. The im- 
pressions were taken " mechanically " on paper ; and 
both oil and water colours 1 were made use of. Some 

1 Some of the specimens in water 
colour are to be seen at the Museum 
of Patents, South Kensington. When 
the paper is moistened with the finger, 
the colour easily rubs off. The whole 
subject of these pictures has recently 

been thoroughly sifted by M. P. W. 
Boulton, Esq., in his ' Bemarks on 
some Evidence recently communicated 
to the Photographic Society' (Brad- 
bury and Evans, 1864), apropos of the 
Papers of Mr. W. P. Smith on the 


of the pictures were of large size 40 by 50 inches the 
subjects being chiefly classical. This branch of the busi- 
ness being found unproductive, was brought to a close 
in 1780, when the partnership with Eginton was at the 
same time dissolved. 

Another and more fortunate branch of business into 
which Boulton entered with Watt and Keir, about the 
same time, was the manufacture of letter-copying ma- 
chines. Watt made the invention, Boulton found the 
money for taking out the patent, and Keir conducted 
the business. Watt was a very voluminous correspondent, 
and the time occupied by him in copying letters, the 
contents of which he desired to keep secret from third 
parties, was such that in order to economise it he 
invented the method of letter-copying in such com- 
mon use. The invention consisted in the transfer, by 
pressure, of the writing made with mucilaginous ink, 
to damped and unsized transparent copying-paper, by 
means either of a rolling press or a screw press. Though 
Watt himself preferred the rollers, the screw press is 
now generally adopted as the more simple and effica- 
cious process. 

This invention was made by Watt in the summer of 
1778. In June we find him busy experimenting on 
copying-papers of different kinds, requesting Boulton to 
send him specimens of " the most even and whitest un- 
sized paper ;" and in the following month he wrote 
Dr. Black, "I have lately discovered a method of 

same subject, in which it was sur- 
mised that they were the result of some 
photographic process. Mr. Boulton 
clearly shows, from the original corre- 
spondence, that the process was me- 

pressed to other persons, that in the 
coloured specimens in the Museum, 
there are indications that the colour 
was laid on mechanically, not by 
hand or brush." As the process of 

chanical colour - printing. He also I " dead-colouring " the pictures is occa- 
adds, " From the brief statements sionally referred to, it is probable that 

which I remember to have heard from 
my father concerning the polygraphic 
process, my impression of it was that 
it copied colour mechanically, not 
merely chiaro-scuro. And I agree 
with the opinion which has been ex- 

the pictures passed through more 
stages than one, as in the case of 
modern colour-printing. In one of 
Eginton's letters, three plates were 
spoken of as necessary for taking im- 
pressions of one of the pictures. 


copying writing instantaneously, provided it has been 
written the same day, or within twenty-four hours. 
I send you a specimen, and will impart the secret if 
it will be of any use to you. It enables me to copy 
all my business letters." 1 For two years Watt kept 
his method of copying a secret ; but hearing that 
certain persons were prying into it with the view of 
turning it to account, he determined to anticipate them 
by taking out a patent, which was secured in May, 
1780. By that time Watt had completed the details 
of the press and the copying-ink. Sufficient mahogany 
and lignum-vitee had been ordered for making 500 
machines, and Boulton went up to London to try and 
get the press introduced in the public offices. He first 
waited upon several noblemen to interest them in the 
machine, amongst others on Lord Dartmouth, who pro- 
posed to show it to George III. " The King," said 
Boulton, in a letter to Watt, " writes a great deal, and 
takes copies of all he writes with his own hand, so that 
Lord Dartmouth thinks it will be a very desirable thing 
for His Majesty." Several of those to whom the machine 
was first shown, apprehended that it would lead to in- 
crease of forgery then a great source of terror to com- 
mercial men. The bankers concurred in this view, and 
strongly denounced the invention ; and they expostu- 
lated with Boulton and Watt's agent for offering the 
presses for sale. " Mr. Woodmason," wrote Boulton, 
" says the bankers mob him for having anything to do 
with it ; they say that it ought to be suppressed." 
Boulton was not dismayed by this opposition, but pro- 
ceeded to issue circulars to the members of the Houses 
of Lords and Commons, descriptive of the machine, 
inviting them to an inspection of it, after which he 
communicated the results to his partner : 

.... "On Tuesday morning last I waited on some particular 
noblemen, according to promise, at their own houses, with the press, 

Watt to Dr. Black, 24th July, 1778. 


and at one o'clock I took possession of a private room adjoining the 
Court of Bequests, Westminster Hall, where I was visited by several 
members of both Houses, who in general were well pleased with the 
invention ; but all expressed their fears of forgery, which occasioned 
and obliged me to exercise my lungs very much. Many of the 
members tried to copy bank notes, but in vain. I had a full 
audience till half-past eight o'clock. ... I had quite a mob of 
members next day ; some of them mobbed me for introducing such 
wicked arts ; however, upon the whole, I had a greater majority 
than Lord North hath had this year. 

On Thursday ... at half-past two . . I had a tolerable good 
House, even a better than the Speaker, who was often obliged to 
send his proper officer to fetch away from me the members to vote, 
and sometimes to make a House. As soon as the House formed into 
a Committee upon the Malt-tax, the Speaker left the chair and sent 
for me and the machine, which was carried through the gallery in 
face of the whole House into the Speaker's Chamber. I found him 
full of fears about the dreadful consequences, which I quieted before 
I left him, and he with his two friends subscribed. I attended again 
on Friday, but, from a very thin House and curiosity abating, I had 
very few [subscriptions]. Mr. Banks came to see the machine on 
Thursday. I thought it might be of service to show it to the Eoyal 
Society that evening. . . . After the business of the Society was over, 
he announced Mr. Watt's invention, and my readiness to show it, 
and it was accordingly brought in and afforded much satisfaction to 
a crowded audience. I did not show the list of subscribers and the 
proposals, nor dishonour philosophy by trade in that room. . . . 
I spent Friday evening with Smeaton and other engineers at a 
coffee-house, when a gentleman (not knowing me) exclaimed against 
the copying-machine, and wished the inventor was hanged and the 
machines all burnt, which brought on a laugh; as I was known to 
most present. . . . There are great names enough already among 
the subscribers to give a sanction and authority to it, as well as to 
make it fashionable, which has more influence upon the minds 
of three-fourths of the Londoners than the intrinsic merit of the 
thing, and without which it would have been some years in making 
its way." ' 

By the end of the year, the 150 machines first made 
were sold off, and more orders were coming in. Thirty 
were wanted for exportation abroad, and a still greater 
number were wanted at home. The letter-copying ma- 
chine gradually and steadily made its way, until at 
length there was scarcely a house of any extensive 

1 Boulton to Watt, 14th May, 1780. Boulton MSS. 




business transactions in which it was not to be. found. 
Watt himself, writing of the invention some thirty years 
later, observed that it had proved so useful to himself that 
it had been worth all the trouble of inventing it, even had 
it been attended with no pecuniary profit whatever. 

Boulton' s principal business, however, while in town, 
was not so much to push the letter-copying machine, but 
to set straight the bankers' account, which had been 
overdrawn to the amount of 17, GOO/. He was able to 
satisfy them to a certain extent by granting mortgages 
on the engine royalties payable in Cornwall, besides 
giving personal bonds for repayment of the advances 
within a given time. It was necessary to obtain Watt's 
consent to both these measures ; but, though Watt was 
willing to agree to the former expedient, he positively 
refused to be a party to the personal bonds. 1 Boulton 
was therefore under the necessity of arranging the 
matter himself. He was thereby enabled to meet the 
more pressing claims upon the firm, and to make 
arrangements for pushing on the engine business with 
renewed vigour. Watt was, however, by no means so 
anxious on this score as Boulton was. He was even 
desirous of retiring from the concern, and going abroad 
in search of health. " Without I can spare time 
this next summer," he wrote, " to go to some more 
healthy climate to procure a little health, if climate 
will do, I must give up business and the world too. 
My head is good for nothing." 2 While Boulton was 
earnestly pressing the invention on the mining interest, 

1 On the 18th May, 1780, Watt 
wrote Boulton, then in London, as 
follows : " I am sorry, my dear Sir, 
to prove in any shape refractory to 
what you desire, but my quiet, my 
peace of mind, perhaps my very exist- 
ence, depend on what I have told you. 
I am unhappy in not having any 
person I can advise with on this 
subject ; and my own knowledge of it 
is insufficient. Therefore, if 1 appear 

too rigid, do not blame me, but my 
ignorance and timidity." And again, 
on the 19th,. on returning the draft 
mortgage, he wrote: "If my exe- 
cuting this deed cannot be dispensed 
with, I will do it, but will not execute 
any personal bond for the money. I 
would rather assign you all Cornwall 
on proper conditions than execute 


Watt to Boulton, llth April, 1780. 


and pushing for orders, Watt shuddered at the prospect 
of one. He saw in increase of business only increase of 
headaches. " The care and attention which our business 
requires," said he, " make me at present dread a fresh 
order with as much horror as other people with joy 
receive one. What signifies it to a man though he 
gain the whole world, if he lose his health and his life ? 
The first of these losses has already befallen me, and 
the second will probably be the consequence of it, with- 
out some favourable circumstances which at present I 
cannot foresee should prevent it." 

Judging by the correspondence of Watt, his sufferings 
of mind and body at this time must have been excessive ; 
and the wonder is how he lived through it. But " the 
creaking gate hangs long on its hinges," and he lived to 
the age of eighty-three, long surviving his stronger and 
more courageous partner. Intense headache seemed to 
be his normal state, and his only tolerable moments 
were those in which the headache was less violent than 
usual. His son has since described how he remembered 
seeing his father about this time, sitting by the fireside 
for hours together, with his head leaning on his elbow, 
suffering from most acute sick-headaches, and scarcely 
able to give utterance to his thoughts. " My headache," 
he would write to Boulton, " keeps its week-aversary 
to-day." At another time, " I am plagued with the 
blues ; my head is too much confused to do any brain- 
work." Once, when he had engaged to accompany his 
wife to an evening concert, he wrote, "I am quite eat 
up with the mulligrubs, and to complete the matter I 
am obliged to go to an oratorio, or serenata, or some 
other nonsense, to-night." Mrs. Watt tried her best to 
draw him out of himself, but it was not often that she 
could divert him from his misery. What relieved him 
most was sleep, when he could obtain it ; and, to recruit 
his powers, he was accustomed to take from nine to 
eleven hours sleep at night, besides naps during the 


day. When Boulton had erysipelas, in Cornwall, and 
could not stir abroad, he wrote to his partner com- 
plaining of an unusual lowness of spirits, on which 
Watt undertook to be his comforter in his own peculiar 
way. " There is no pitch of low spirits," said he, 
" that I have not a perfect notion of, from hanging 
melancholy to peevish melancholy : conquer the devil 
when he is young." Watt experienced all the tortures 
of confirmed dyspepsia, which cast its dark shadow over 
the life of every day. His condition was often most 
pitiable. It is true, many of the troubles which beset 
him were imaginary, but he suffered from them in idea 
as much as if they had been real. Small evils fretted 
him, and great ones overwhelmed him. He met them 
all more than halfway, and usually anticipated the 
worst. He had few moments of cheerfulness, hopeful- 
ness, or repose. Speaking of one of his violent head- 
aches, he said, " I believe it was caused by something 
making my stomach very acid ;" and unhappily, as 
in the case of most dyspeptics, the acidity communicated 
itself to his temper. When these fits came upon him, 
and the world was going against him, and ruin seemed 
about to swallow him up quick, he would sit down and 
pen a long gloomy letter to his partner, full of agony 
and despair. His mental condition at the time shows at 
what expense of suffering in mind and body the tri- 
umphs of genius are sometimes achieved. 

In the autumn of 1780, Boulton went into Cornwall 
for a time to look after the business there. Several new 
engines had been ordered, and were either erected or 
in progress, at Wheal Treasury, Tresavean, Penrydee, 
Dalcoath, Wheal Chance, Wheal Crenver, and the United 
Mines. One of the principal objects of his visit was to 
settle the agreements with the mining companies for the 
use of these engines. 

It had been found difficult to estimate the actual savings 
of fuel, and the settlement of the accounts was a con- 




stant source of cavil. There was so much temptation 
on the one side to evade the payments according to the 
tables prepared by Watt, and so much occasion for sus- 
picion on the other that they had been evaded by unfair 
means, that it appeared to Boulton that the only prac- 
ticable method was to agree to a fixed annual payment 
for each engine erected, according to its power and the 
work it performed. Watt was very averse to giving up 
the tables which had cost him so much labour to prepare ; 
but Boulton more wisely urged the adoption of the plan 
that would work most smoothly, and get rid of the 
heartburnings on both sides. Boulton accordingly sent 
down to Watt a- draft agreement with the Wheal Virgin 
adventurers, who were prepared to pay the large sum 
of 2500/. a year in respect of five new engines erected 
for their firm ; and urged him to agree to the terms. 
" You must not be too rigid," said he, " in fixing the 
dates of payment. A hard bargain is a bad bargain." 
Watt replied in a long letter, urging the accuracy of 
his tables, and intimating his reluctance to depart from 
them. To this Boulton responded, " Now, my dear Sir, 
the way to do justice to our own characters, and to 
trample under our feet envy, hatred, and malice, is to 
dispel the doubts, and to clear up the minds of the 
gentlemanly part of this our best of all kingdoms ; for 
if they think we do wrong, it operates against us 
although we do none, just as much as if we really did 
the wrong. Patience and candour should mark all our 
actions, as well as firmness in being just to ourselves 
and others. A fair character and standing with the 
people is attended with great advantage as well as satis- 
faction, of which you are fully sensible, so I need say 

no more. 

1 Boulton, at Plengwarry, to Watt, 
at Birmingham, 14th September, 1780. 
This day was Boulton's birthday, and 
alluding to the circumstance he wrote, 
" As sure as there are 1728 inches 

in a cubic foot, so sure was I born in 
that year; and as sure as there are 
52 weeks in the year and 52 cards in 
the pack, so surely am I 52 years old 
this very day. May you and Mrs. 


Watt did not give up his favourite tables without 
further expostulation and argument, but at length he 
reluctantly gave his assent to the Wheal Yirgin agree- 
ment, by which the annual payment of 2500/. was 
secured. Though this was really an excellent bargain, 
Watt seemed to regard it in the light of a calamity. 
In the letter intimating his reluctant concurrence, he 
observed: "These disputes are so very disagreeable to 
me, that I am very sorry I ever bestowed so great a 
part of my time and money on the steam-engine. I can 
bear with the artifices of the designing part of mankind, 
but having myself no intention to deceive others, I 
cannot brook the suspicions of the honest part, which 
I am conscious I never merited even in intention, far 
less by any actual attempt to deceive/' 1 Two days later 
Watt again wrote, urging the superiority of his tables, 
concluding thus: "I have been so much molested with 
headaches this week, that I have perhaps written in a 
more peevish strain than I should have done if I had 
been in better health, which I hope you will excuse." 
Boulton replied, expressing regret at his lowness of 
spirits and bad health, advising him to cheer up. " At 
your leisure," said he, " you may amuse yourself with a 
calculation of what all the engines we shall have in 
eighteen months erected in Cornwall will amount to; 
you will find it good for low spirits." "I assure you," 
he said at another time, "you have no cause for appre- 
hension as to anything in this country; all is going on 
well." Boulton seemed to regard his partner in the 
light of a permanent invalid, which he was; and on 
writing to his various correspondents on matters of 
business at Soho, he would abjure them not to cross 
Mr. Watt. To Fothergill he wrote respecting the 
execution of an order, "the matter must be managed 

Watt live very long and be very I 1 Watt to Boulton, 10th October, 
happy." | 1780. Boulton MSS. 


with some delicacy respecting Mr. Watt, as you know 
that when he is low-spirited he is vexed at trifles." 

Another important part of Boulton's business in 
Cornwall, besides settling the engine agreement, was 
to watch the mining adventures themselves, in which 
by this time Boulton and Watt had become largely 
interested. In the then depressed state of the mining 
interest, it was in many cases found difficult to raise 
the requisite money to pay for the new engines ; and the 
engineers must either go without orders or become 
shareholders to prevent the undertakings dropping 
through altogether. Watt's caution impelled him at 
first to decline entering into such speculations. He 
was already in despair at what he considered the bad 
fortunes of the firm, and the load of debts they had 
incurred in carrying on the manufacture of engines. 
But there seemed to be no alternative, and he at length 
came to the conclusion with Boulton, that it was better 
" not to lose a sheep for a ha'porth of tar." 1 

Rather than lose the orders, therefore, or risk the 
losses involved by the closing of the mines worked by 
their engines, the partners resolved to incur the risk of 
joining in the adventures, and in course of time they 
became largely interested in them. They also induced 
friends in the North to join them, more particularly 
Josiah Wedgwood and John Wilkinson, who took 
shares to a large amount. 

Boulton now made it his business to attend the 
meetings of the adventurers, in the hope of improving 
their working arrangements, which he believed were 
very imperfect. He was convinced of this after his first 
meeting with the adventurers of the Wheal Virgin 
mine. He found their proceedings conducted without 
regard to order. The principal attention was paid to 
the dining, and after dinner and drink little real 

1 Watt to Boulton, 20th April, 1780. 



business could be done. No minutes were made of the 
proceedings ; half the company were talking at the same 
time on different subjects; no one took the lead in con- 
ducting the discussions, which were disorderly and 
anarchical in the extreme. Boulton immediately ad- 
dressed himself to the work of introducing order and 
despatch. He called upon his brother adventurers to do 
their business first, and dine and talk afterwards. He 
advised them to procure a minute-book in which to enter 
the resolutions and proceedings. His clear-headed 
suggestions were at once agreed to ; and the next meet- 
ing, for which he prepared the agenda, was so entirely 
different from all that had preceded -it, in respect of 
order, regularity, and the business transacted, that his 
influence with the adventurers was at once established. 
"The business," he wrote to Watt, "was conducted with 
more regularity, and more of it was done, than was 
ever known at any previous meeting." He perceived, 
however, that there was still room for great improve- 
ments, and added, " somebody must be here all next 
summer. . . I shall be here myself the greater part of 
it, for there will want more kicking than you can do. 
... Grace au Dieu ! I neither want health, nor spirits, 
nor even flesh, for I grow fat." l 

To increase his influence among the adventurers, and 
secure the advantages of a local habitation among them, 
Boulton deemed it necessary to take a mansion capable 
of accommodating his family, and which should serve 
the same purpose for his partner when sojourning 
in the neighbourhood. Boulton's first idea was to have a 
portable wooden house built and fitted up in the manner 
of a ship's cabin, which might readily be taken to pieces 
and moved from place to place as business required. 
This plan was, however, eventually abandoned in favour 
of a residence of a more fixed kind. After much search- 

1 Boulton to Watt, 25th and 30th September, 1780. Boulton MSS. 




ing, a house was found which promised to answer the in- 
tended purpose, an old-fashioned, roomy mansion, with 
a good-sized garden full of fruit trees, prettily situated 
at Cosgarne, in the Grwennap valley. Though the 
United Mines district was close at hand, and fourteen 
of Boulton and Watt's engines were at work in the 
immediate neighbourhood, not an engine chimney was 
to be seen from the house, which overlooked Tresamble 
Common, then an unenclosed moor. Here the partners 
by turns spend much of their time for several successive 
years, travelling about from thence on horseback from 
mine to mine to superintend the erection and working 
of their engines. 


By this time the old Newcomen engines had been 
almost completely superseded, only one of that construc- 
tion remaining at work in the whole county of Cornwall. 
The prospects of the engine business were, indeed, so 
promising, that Boulton even contemplated retiring alto- 
gether from his other branches of business at Soho, and 
settling himself permanently in Cornwall. 1 

His partner Fothergill would not, 

and the Soho business was continued 

however, consent to let Boulton go, until the death of Fothergill (bank- 

T 2 


Notwithstanding the great demand for engines, the 
firm continued for some time in serious straits for money, 
and Boultori was under the necessity of resorting to 
all manner of expedients to raise it, sometimes with 
Watt's concurrence, but oftener without. Watt's inex- 
perience in money matters, conjoined with his extreme 
timidity and nervousness, made him apprehend ruin ;m<l 
bankruptcy from every fresh proposition made to him 
on the subject of raising money. He was kept so 
utterly wretched by his fears as to be on occasions quite 
unmanned, and he would brood for days together on the 
accumulation of misery and anxiety which his great 
invention had brought upon him. His wife was kept 
almost as miserable as himself, and as Matthew Boulton 
was the only person, in her opinion, who could help him 
out of his troubles, she privately appealed to him in the 
most pathetic terms : 

" I know," she wrote, " the goodness of your heart will readily 
forgive me for this freedom, and your friendship for Mr. Watt will, 
I am sure, excuse me for pointing out a few things that press upon 
his mind. I am very sorry to tell you that both his health and 
spirits have been much worse since you left Soho. It is all that 
I can do to keep him from sinking under that fatal depression. 
Whether the badness of his health is owing to the lowness of his 
spirits, or the lowness of his spirits to his bad health, I cannot 
pretend to tell. But this I know, that there are several things that 
prey so upon his mind as to render him perfectly miserable. You 
know the bond that he is engaged in to Vere's house has been the 
source of great uneasiness to him. It is still so, and the thought of 
it bows him down to the very ground. He thinks that company 
has used both you and him very ill in refusing to release him, when 
you can give them security for a vast deal more than you are bound 
for. Forgive me, dear Sir, if I express myself wrong. It is a 
subject I am not used to write on. I know if you can you will set 
his mind at rest on this affair. I need not tell you that the seeing 
him so very unhappy must of consequence make me so. There is 
another affair that sits very heavy on his mind ; that is, some old 
accounts that have remained unsettled since the commencement of the 

rupt) in 1782, after which it was continued for some time longer under the 
firm of Koulton and Scale. 


business. They never come across his mind but he is rendered 
unfit for doing anything for a long time. A thousand times have I 
begged him to mention them to you. ... I am sure he would suffer 
every kind of anxiety rather than ask you to do a thing you seemed 
not to approve of. I know the humanity of your nature would 
make you cheerfully give relief to any of the human race that was 
in distress, as far as was within your power. The knowledge of 
this makes me happy in the thought that you will exert every nerve 
to give ease to the mind of your friend. Believe me, there is not 
on earth a person who is dearer to him than you are. It causes 
him pain to give you trouble. The badness of his constitution, and 
his natural dislike to business, make him leave many things undone 
that he knows ought to be done, and, when it is perhaps too late, to 
make himself unhappy at their being neglected. . . . In his present 
state of weakness, every ill, however trifling, appears of a gigantic 
size, while on the other hand every good is diminished. Again, 
I repeat, that from the certain knowledge I have of his temper, 
nothing could contribute more to his happiness and make him go 
on cheerfully with business than having everything finished as he 
goes along, and have no unsettled scores to look back to and brood 
over in his mind." l 

Mrs. Watt concluded by entreating that no mention 
would be made to her husband of her having written 
this letter, as it would only give him pain, and ex- 
plaining that she had adopted the expedient merely in 
the hope that something might be done to alleviate his 
sufferings. This, however, was a very difficult thing 
to do. Boulton could remind his hopeless partner of 
the orders coming in for engines, and that such orders 
meant prosperity, not ruin ; but he could not alter the 
condition of a mind essentially morbid. Boulton was 
himself really in far greater straits than Watt. He 
had risked his whole fortune on the enterprise; and 
besides finding money for buildings, plant, wages, mate- 
rials, and credits, he was maintaining Watt until the 
engine business became productive. We find from the 
annual balance-sheets that Watt was regularly paid 
330. a year, which was charged upon the hardware 

1 Mrs. Watt to Mr. Boulton, then in London, 15th April, 1781. Boulton MSS. 



business ; and that this continued down to the year 
1785. Till then everything had been out-go; the profits 
were all to come. It was estimated that upwards of 
40, GOO/, were invested in the engine business before it 
began to yield profits ; and all this was found by Boulton. 
In one of his letters to Matthews he wrote, "I find my- 
self in the character of P, pay for all," but so long as 
his credit held good, Watt's maintenance was secure. 

So soon, however, as it became clear that the enter- 
prise would be a success, and that the demand for engines 
must shortly become national, the firm was threatened 
with a danger of another kind, which occasioned almost as 
much alarm to Boulton as it did to Watt. This was the 
movement set on foot in Cornwall and elsewhere with 
the object of upsetting their patent. Had the engine been 
a useless invention, no one could have questioned their 
right of property in it ; but, being recognised as of bound- 
less utility,, it began to be urged that .the public ought 
to be free to use it without paying for it. It was 
alleged that it had become indispensable for the proper 
working of the mines, and that the abolition of the 
patent right would be an immense boon to the mining 
interest, and enable them to work the ores at a much 
reduced cost, while the general industry of the country 
would also be greatly benefited. 

When Boulton wrote Watt from Cornwall, informing 
him that the Cornishmen were agitating the repeal of 
the special Act by which their patent had been extended, 
and getting up petitions with that object, Watt replied, 
"I suspected some such move as this; and you may 
depend upon it they will never be easy while they pay 
us anything. This is a match of all Cornwall against 
Boulton and Watt; and though we may be the better 
players, yet they can hold longer out. However, if we 
do die, let us die hard." l 

1 In another letter Watt described 
himself as " worried by the Wheal 

Chanceians. ... In short," says he, 
" I am at this moment so provoked at 




But would Parliament really take away that right of 
property in the invention which they had granted, and 
deprive Watt and his partner of the fruits of their long- 
labour and anxiety, and their heavy outlay, now that 
the superiority of the engine had become established ? 
Would the legislature consign them to certain ruin 
because it would be for the advantage of the Cornish 
miners to have the use of the invention without paying 
for it ? Watt would not for a moment believe this, and 
both he and Boulton felt strong in the conviction that 
their patent right would be maintained. 

Time was, when Watt would have gladly parted with 
his invention for a very small sum, and made the engine 
free to all, so far as he was concerned. Even after 
it had been perfected at Soho, after repeated and costly 
experiments, he declared his willingness to sell all 
his interest in it for 70 OO/., which would have barely 
remunerated him for the time and labour he had 
bestowed upon it, then extending over nearly twenty 
years of the best period of his life. And now, after six 
years of the partnership had run, and the heavy ex- 
penditure incurred by Boulton in introducing the engine 
was still unproductive, he regarded it as cruel in the 
extreme to attempt to deprive him of his just reward. 
To Boulton he disburdened himself fully, in strong and 
sometimes bitter terms. " They charge us," he said, " with 
establishing a monopoly, but if a monopoly, it is one 
by means of which their mines are made more pro- 
ductive than ever they were before. Have we not 
given over to them two-thirds of the advantages 
derivable from its use in the saving of fuel, and reserved 
only one-third to ourselves, though even that has been 
still further reduced to meet the pressure of the times ? 

the undeserved rancour with which 
we are persecuted in Cornwall, that, 
were it not on account of the de- 
plorable state of debt I find myself in, 
I would live on bread and cheese, and 

suffer the water to run out at their 
adits, before I would relax the slightest 
iota of what I thought my right in 
their favour." Watt to Boulton, 17th 
October, 1780. Boulton MSS. 


They say it is inconvenient for the mining interest to be 
burdened with the payment of engine dues ; just as it is 
inconvenient for the person who wishes to get at my 
purse that I should keep my breeches-pocket buttoned. 
It is doubtless also very inconvenient for the man who 
wishes to get a slice of the squire's land, that there 
should be a law tying it up by an entail. Yet the 
squire's land has not been of his own making, as the 
condensing engine has been of mine. He has only 
passively inherited his property, while this invention 
has been the product of my own labour, and of God 
knows how much anguish of mind and body ; "- 

" Why don't they," he asked, " petition Parliament to take 
Sir Francis Bassett's mines from him ? He acknowledges that he 
has derived great profits from using our engines, which is more 
than we can say of our invention ; for it appears by our books that 
Cornwall has hitherto eaten up all the profits we have drawn from 
it, as well as all that we have got from other places, and a good sum 
of our own money into the bargain. We have no power to compel 
anybody to erect our engines. What, then, will Parliament say to 
any man who comes there to complain of a grievance he can avoid, 
and which does not exist but in his own imagination? Will 
Parliament give away our property without an equivalent? 
Will they not collect that equivalent from the county of Cornwall ? 
Will they adjudge them to pay us any less sum than it has cost 
ourselves? Will they not further add some reward for the quantity 
of life that has been devoted to the pursuit of what is evidently for 
the advantage of others, but hitherto has not been for our own ? 
Lastly, will Parliament compel us to work for anybody without a 
remuneration adequate to our experience, or will they oblige us to 
labour for any one without our consent ? We are in the state of 
the old Eoman who was found guilty of raising better crops than 
his neighbours, and was therefore ordered to bring before the 
assembly of the people his instruments of husbandry, and to tell 
them of his art. He complied, and when he had done said, ' These 
Romans, are the instruments of our art ; but I cannot bring into 
the forum the labours, the sweats, the watchings, the anxieties, the 
cares, which produced these crops.' So, every one sees the reward 
which we may yet probably receive from our labours; but few 
consider the price we have paid for that reward, which is by no 
means a certain annuity, but a return of the most precarious sort. 
To put an end, as far as lies in my power, to all disputes with the 




people of Cornwall, let them pa.y iny debts and give me a reasonable 
sum for the time I Lave lost, and I will resign my part in their 
favour, and think myself well oif by the bargain. Or, if you can 
find any man who is agreeable to yourself, I'll sell him my share 
on reasonable terms, and, like the sailor, I will promise to contrive 
no more fire-engines. In short, my dear Sir, with a good cause in 
hand, I do not fear going before Parliament or anywhere. I am 
sure that if they did anything they would put us in a better position 
than we are in now." ' 

The petition to Parliament, though much talked 
about, was not, however, presented; and the schemers 
who envied Boulton and Watt the gains which they 
had now the prospect of deriving from the use of their 
engine, shortly after resorted to other means of par- 
ticipating in them, to which we shall hereafter refer. 
In the mean time Boulton, at the urgent entreaty of 
Watt, who described himself as "loaded to 121bs. on the 
inch," returned to Birmingham ; though he had scarcely 
left before urgent entreaties were sent after him that he 
must come back again to Cornwall. 2 

While Boulton was in Cornwall, the principal manu- 
facturers of Birmingham, dissatisfied with the bad and 
dear supply of copper, resolved to form themselves into 
a company for the purpose of making brass and spelter ; 
and they wrote to Boulton offering to raise the requisite 
means, provided he would take the lead in the manage- 
ment of the concern. He could not but feel gratified at 
this best of all proofs of the esteem in which his towns- 
men held him, and of their confidence in his business 
qualities. Boulton, however, declined to undertake so 
large an addition to his labours. He felt that he would 

1 Watt to Boulton, 31st October, 
1780. Boulton MSS. 

2 " Though your long stay, when 
you were last here," wrote Henderson, 
the resident agent, " must have been 
attended with great inconveniences, 
yet you are now very much \vanted 
in Wheal Virgin affairs. Different 
interests have produced a sort of 
anarchy. . . . Were Mr. Watt here 

now, I don't think his health would 
allow him to stand the battles with 
the different people. I have not written 
to him freely on this subject, as I am 
afraid it would hurt him. . . . Your 
authority here as an adventurer has 
much greater weight than anything I 
can propose." Henderson to Boulton, 
4th February, ITS I. Boulton MSS. 


soon be an old man, and that it would be necessary for 
him to contract rather than extend the field of his opera- 
tions ; besides, the engine business was already suffi- 
ciently prosperous to induce him to devote to it the chief 
share of his attention. But he promised to his Birming- 
ham friends that he would always be glad to give them 
his best advice and assistance. He accordingly furnished 
them with a plan of operations, and drew up a scheme 
for their consideration, which was unanimously adopted, 
and the whole of the share capital was at once subscribed 
for. He also made arrangements with his Cornish 
friends for a regular supply of copper direct from the 
mines on the best terms. On his return to Birmingham, 
we find him entering upon an elaborate series of experi- 
ments, to determine the best constituents of brass; in 
the course of which he personally visited the principal 
calamine works in Wales and Derbyshire, for the pur- 
pose of testing their different produce. He diligently 
read all the treatises on the subject, and made inquiries 
as to the practice adopted in foreign countries. Finding, 
however, that the continuance of his connexion with the 
brass company was absorbing more of his time than he 
could afford to bestow upon it, he shortly withdrew from 
the concern,' partly also^ because he was dissatisfied with 
what he considered the illiberal manner in which the 
managing committee were conducting its affairs. 

Another subject which occupied much of Boulton's 
attention about the same time, was the improvement 
of engine boilers. At an early period he introduced 
tubes in them, through which the heated air of the 
furnace passed, thereby greatly increasing the heating 
surface and enabling steam to be raised more easily and 
rapidly. We find him in correspondence with Watt 
on the subject, while residing at Redruth in the autumn 
of 1780. He first suggested iron tubes; but Watt 
wrote, " I cannot advise iron for the tubes of boilers, but 


they may be thought of." ] Next Boulton suggested 
the employment of copper tubes ; to which Watt replied, 
" I approve of what you observe about making copper 
flanches to the boiler pipes in future, and Ale and Cakes 
can easily be converted to that way whenever they put 
up a second boiler." We find Boulton introducing four 
copper tubes 20 inches in diameter into the Wheal Busy 
boiler, which was 26 feet in length, the fire passing 
through two of the tubes, and returning through the 
other two. ' Here, therefore, we have Boulton anticipating 
the invention of the tubular boiler, and clearly adopting 
it in practice, before the existence of the locomotive, 
for which it was afterwards re-invented. In fact, the 
multitubular boiler is but a modification and extension 
of Boulton' s principle, as applied by him at so early 
a period in the Cornish boilers. 

The numerous MS. books left by Boulton show the 
care with which he made his experiments, and the scru- 
pulousness with which he recorded the results. Copies 
of his observations and experiments on boilers were 
sent to Watt, to be entered by him in "the calculation 
book," in which was recorded the tabulated experience 
of the firm. Boulton was also an excellent mechanical 
draughtsman, as appears from his tablets, which contain 
a number of beautifully executed drawings of engines 
and machinery, with very copious and minutely-written 
instructions for erecting them. Some of the drawings 
of sugar-mills are especially well executed, and delicately 
coloured. A rough sketch is given in one of the books, 
with a written explanation in Boulton's hand, of a 
mode of applying power in taking canal-boats through 
tunnels. It consists of an engine-boat, with toothed 
claws attached to it for the purpose of catching metal 
racks fastened along the sides of the tunnel, such being 

1 Watt to Boulton, 17th October, 1780. 




liis design for working boats upon canals. While in 
Cornwall, he occupied his evenings in drawing sections 
of various mines, showing the adits, and the method of 
applying the pumping machinery, to which were also 
added numerous elaborate calculations of the results of 
engine working. He also continued to devise improve- 
ments in the construction and working of the steam- 
engine, on which subject he exchanged his views with 
Watt at great length. In one of his letters he says : 
" I like your plan of making all the principal wearing 
parts of tempered steel, and the racks of best Swedish 
iron, with the teeth cut out. Query : Would it not be 
worth while to make a machine for dividing and cutting 
the teeth in good form out of sectors ? The iron would 
be less strained by that mode of cutting." At other 
times, when the steam-engine subject seemed exhausted, 
he proceeded with the designing of road-carriages, in 
which he was an adept, filling a quarto drawing-book, 
entitled 6 Thoughts on Carriages/ with sketches of 
different kinds of vehicles, some in pencil and Indian 
ink, and others in colours, beautifully finished. Such 
were the leisure employments of this indefatigably 
industrious man. 

t.Is'l KANCK 1O CUt 





WATT'S presence being much wanted in Cornwall, he 
again proceeded thither, accompanied by his wife and 
family, and arrived at Cosgarne towards the end of 
June, 1781. He found that many things had gone 
wrong for want of the master's eye, and it was some 
time before he succeeded in putting affairs in order. 
The men had been neglecting their work, " going 
a-drijiking." Cartwright had "contracted a fever in 
his working arm, and been swallowing ale for a cure," 
until he heard Watt had come, when the fever left him. 
Mrs. Watt also found occasion to complain of sundry little 
grievances, and favoured Boulton with a long catalogue 
of them. Gregory and Jessy had caught cold on the 
journey, and workmen were hammering about the house 
making repairs. There was, however, one gleam of 




brightness in her letter: "James's spirits were sur- 
prisingly mended since his arrival." 

Watt was a most voluminous correspondent. He wrote 
Boulton several times a week great folio sheets, written 
close, in small hand. The letters must have occupied 
much of his time to write, and of Boulton' s to read. 
The latter, seeing his partner's tendency to indulge in 
"worrit" about petty troubles, advised him in a kindly 
spirit not to vex himself so much about such matters, 
but to call philosophy to his aid. Why should he not 
occupy some of his spare time in writing out a history 
of all his steam-engine contrivances, to be dedicated to 
Sir Joseph Banks, and published in the ' Transactions of 
the Eoyal Society ' ? But Watt was extremely averse 
to writing anything for publication, and the suggestion 
w r as not acted on. Then, knowing Watt's greatest 
pleasure to be in inventing, Boulton in a subsequent 
letter advised him to take up afresh, and complete a 
plan which they had often discussed, of producing rotary 
motion, by which the engine might be applied to work 
mills and drive machinery. 

Watt had from the first regarded the employment of 
the steam-engine in producing continuous rotary motion 
as one of its most useful applications, and with this 
object he invented his original wheel-engine. No steps 
were taken to introduce the invention to practical use ; 
but it occurred to Watt that the same object might be 
better effected by employing the ordinary engine for 
the purpose, with certain modifications. 1 The subject 
had partially occupied his attention during his first>visit 

1 In June, 1780, we find Boulton 
describing to Colonel Watson the 
progress of the Soho business, as 
follows : " Since I had the honour of 
seeing you in England we have erected 
upwards of 40 of our new steam- 
engines, and have (from so much ex- 
perience) obviated every difficulty, and 
made it a most practicable and perfect 

machine. The steam w r heel we have 
not meddled with since you were at 
Soho, as we have been fully em- 
ployed upon large beam - engines ; 
besides, we have applied the beam 
engine to rotative motions so success- 
fully that the wheel engine seems 
almost unnecessary." 


to Cornwall; for we find him writing Boulton from 
Chace water, in 1779, "As to the circular motion, I will 
apply it as soon as I can, but foresee that I shall be very 
busy shortly, and much out of doors." On his subsequent 
return to Birmingham, after frequent conferences with 
his partner on the subject, he proceeded to prepare 
a model, in which he made use of a crank connected 
with the working beam of the engine to produce 
the rotary motion. There was no originality in the 
employment of the crank, which was an expedient that 
Watt had long before made use of. 1 The crank was, 
indeed, one of the most common of mechanical ap- 
pliances. It was in daily use in every spinning-wheel, 
in every grindstone turned by hand, in every turner's 
and knife-grinder's foot-lathe, and in every potter's wheel. 
It was one of the commonest, 
as it must have been one of 
the oldest, of mechanical ex- 
pedients. "The true in- 
ventor of the crank rotative 
motion," said Watt,' " was 
the man who first contrived 
the common foot-lathe : ap- 
plying it tO the engine Was THE CRANK AS APPLIED IN THE 

like taking a knife to cut 

cheese which had been made to cut bread." 

Though Watt had become very reserved, especially to 
strangers, about his inventions, he could not altogether 
keep from the knowledge of his workmen the con- 
trivances on which his thoughts were occupied. He 
was under the necessity of employing them to make 
patterns after his drawings, from which any ingenious 
man might readily apprehend what he was aiming at. 

1 Watt had made use of the crank denser, I laid aside the spiral wheels 
at a very early period. Thus we find j because of the noise and thumping, 
him writing to Dr. Small on the 20th and substituted a crank : in other 
September, 176U, " As to the con- respects it performed well enough." 


The Soho workmen were naturally curious about trie 
new inventions and adaptations which Watt was con- 
stantly producing, and these usually formed the subject 
of conversation at their by-hours. While the model of 
the crank engine was under construction at Soho in 
the summer of 1780, a number of the workmen met 
one Saturday evening, according to custom, to drink 
together at the " Waggon and Horses," a little old- 
fashioned, low-roofed, roadside public-house, still standing 

[Hy Ptrcival Rkeltc.n ] 

in the village of Handsworth. The men were seated 
round the little kitchen-parlour, talking about their 
work, and boasting, as men will do over their beer, of 
the new and wonderful things which they were carrying 
forward in the shops. Dick Cartwright, the pattern 
maker, was one of the loudest of the party. He was 
occupied upon a model for the purpose of producing 
rotary motion, which he declared would prove one of 
the best things Mr. Watt had ever brought out. The 
other men were curious to know all about it, and to 
illustrate the action of the machine, Cartwright pro- 

CHAP. XV. UATTIIKW \V ASH ]>,< >];< >H ill. 289 

ceeded to make a rude sketch of the crank upon the 
wooden table with a bit of chalk. A person who sat in 
the kitchen corner in the assumed garb of a workman, 
drank in greedily all that the men had been saying ; 
for there were many eavesdroppers constantly hanging 
about Soho, some for the purpose of picking up surrep- 
titious information, and others to decoy away skilled work- 
men who were in the secrets of the manufacture. Watt 
himself had never thought of taking out a patent for 
the crank, not believing it to be patentable ; but the 
stranger aforesaid had no such hesitation, and it is said 
he posted straight to London and anticipated Watt- by 
securing a protection for the contrivance. 1 

Watt was exceedingly wroth when he discovered the 
trick which had been played him, and he suspected that 
Matthew Washborough was at the bottom of it. Wash- 
borough was a Bristol mechanic, who carried on several 
branches of mechanical trade, amongst others that of 
clock-making on a large scale. Watt had employed 
Washborough to make nozzles for several of the Cornish 
engines, but was not satisfied with his work ; for we find 
him writing to his partner, " If Washborough makes no 
better engines than he does eduction-pipes, he will soon 
be blo\vn : the Wheal Union pipe is the worst job you 
ever saw, being worse than Forbes 's, which was very bad ; 
I scarce know what to do with it." It would appear from 
this that Washborough had begun to make engines, 
thereby turning to account the knowledge he had 
acquired in Cornwall. One of the first he made was for 
the purpose of driving the lathes of his own manu- 
factory at Bristol ; and it affords a clear proof of Wash- 
borough's ingenuity that in this engine he employed 
both the fly-wheel and the crank. He has been styled 

1 The invention was patented by employing it in the engine invented 
James Picknrd, a Birmingham button- - by him for securing circular motion, 
maker, on the 23rd August, 1780 j Washborough's own patent has no re- 
(Xo. 1263). Matthew Washborough | ference to the crank, though he is usu- 
of Bristol arranged with Pickard for ; ally named as the inventor of it. 





the inventor of the fly-wheel, but he was no more its 
inventor than he was of the crank ; the Irish Professor 
Fitzgerald having proposed to employ it as part of a 
Papin's engine as early as the year 1757. Washborough 
shortly after erected an engine after the same plan for 
a manufacturer on Snow Hill, Birmingham ; and then 
it was that Watt learned that he had been " bolted out," 
as he termed it, from making use of the crank. 

At first he was puzzled what to do to overcome the 
difficulty, but his prolific mind was rarely at a loss, and 
before many months were over he had contrived several 
other methods for effecting rotary motion. "I dare 
not, however," he wrote to Boulton, "make my new 
scheme, lest we be betrayed again ; I believe we had 
best take the patent first." At the same time Watt 
was persuaded that no contrivance could surpass the 
crank * for directness, simplicity, and efficiency. He was 
therefore desirous, if possible, of making use of it in his 
rotative engine, as originally proposed ; and he wrote to 
Boulton, then at Redruth, " I think you ought to call 
upon Washborough as you return, and let him know that 
we will dispute his having an exclusive right to those 
cranks." 2 Boulton called upon Washborough accord- 
ingly, and gave him notice to this effect. But Watt 
hesitated to use the crank after all. Although the con- 
trivance was by no means new, its application to the 
steam-engine was new ; and, notwithstanding the unfair 
way in which Pickard had anticipated him, Watt 
did not like to set the example of assailing a patent, 
however disputable, as it might furnish a handle to 
those who were at the time seeking to attack his 

1 At a later date we find him writing 
to his partner thus : " I cannot agree 
with Mr. Palmer's notion about the 
crank engine, as, though a crank is not 
new, yet that application of it is new 
and never was practised except by us. 
It is by no means our interest to 
demolish the crank patent, because 

then all our own machines of that 
kind will be of no use, and 1 am con- 
vinced that the crank can be made 
their superior." Watt to Boulton, 
15th October, 1781. 

2 Watt to Boulton, 19th November, 


own. The proposal was made to him that he should 
allow the Washborough Company to use his steam- 
engine in exchange for their allowing him to use the 
crank ; but this he positively refused to agree to, as he 
felt confident in yet being able to produce a circular 
motion without employing the crank at all. 

Thus matters stood until the beginning of the year 
1781, when Washborough, having entered into an ar- 
rangement with the Commissioners of the Navy to 
erect an engine for grinding flour at the Deptford 
Victualling Yard, 1 a formal application was made to 
Boulton and Watt to apply their engine for the purpose. 
Watt protested that he could not bring himself to 
submit to such an indignity. If the Commissioners 
thought proper to employ him to erect the necessary 
engine, rotative motion, and machinery, he would exert 
every faculty which God had given him in doing so, 
but he "would never consent to hold the candle to 

" Had I esteemed him," he wrote to Boulton, " a man of ingenuity 
and the real inventor of the thing in question, I should not have 
made any objection ; but, when I know that the contrivance is my 
own, and has been stolen from me by the most infamous means, and, 
to add to the provocation, a patent been surreptitiously obtained 
for it, I think it would be descending below the character of a man 
to be found in any way aiding or assisting him in his pretended 
invention. ... I think, therefore, that you should propose to the 
Honourable Board to undertake the direction of the whole; and, 
provided you can agree with them about the customary premium 

1 Boulton and Watt were by this | to the work of ten men for ten hours, 
time employing their engine for a like j and these mills may be made very 
purpose, as appears from a letter of j much more powerful than any water- 
Boulton to S. Wyatt, dated 28th mills in England." To Mr. Henderson 

February, 1781, in which he says, 
" \Ve are now applying our engines to 
all kinds of mills, such as corn mills, 
rolling iron and copper, winding coals 
out of the pit, and every other purpose 
to which the wind or water mill is 
applicable. In such applications, one 
hundred weight of coals will produce 
as much mechanical power as is equal 

he wrote at the same date : " I make 
no scruple to say but that I could 
readily build a more powerful and in 
every respect better copper-rolling mill 
by steam than any water-mill now in 
England. As soon as the Cornish 
engines are at work, I intend to turn 
millwright and make our steam-mills 
universally known." 

u 2 


for the savings by our engine, you should do the whirligig part [the 
rotative motion] for love. If this proposal should not be accepted, 
I beg of you to decline having any concern with it, and leave the 
field clear to Washborough. We may perhaps gain more by so 
doing than we can lose, as I assure you I have a very mean opinion 
of the mechanical abilities of our opponents. They have committed 
many gross errors in such of their works as I have had occasion to 
know about, and we may get honour by rectifying their mistakes. 
Perhaps this may seem to you to savour of vanity. If it does, 
excuse it on account of the very provoking circumstances which 
have extorted the confession. If these engineers had let us alone, I 
should not have meddled with them ; but, as it is, I think we should 
be wanting in common prudence if we suffered a marriage between 
our machine and theirs, and if we did not do all we could to strip 
them of their borrowed feathers, which I hope there is justice 
enough left in England to enable us to do." 1 

Boulton acted on his partner's advice, and declined 
the proposed connexion. The Navy Board were placed 
in a dilemma by this decision. They then referred 
the matter to Mr. Smeaton, and requested him to report 
to them as to the most suitable plan of a flour-mill, 
and the steam-engine best calculated to drive it. To 
the great surprise of Watt as well as Washborough, 
Smeaton reported that both their engines were alike 

1 Watt to Boulton, 21st April, 1781. 
On the following" day (the 22nd 
April) Watt wrote another long letter 
to Boulton on the same subject. 
His mind could not be at rest, 
and he thus unburdened himself 
of his indignation : " If you find 
yourself so circumstanced, as you 
say you are, that you dare not refuse 
[to erect the proposed engine for the 
Navy Board], then let them pay M. 
Washborough and have done with him, 
and let the engine be erected under 
our direction or Mr. Smeaton's. With 
the latter I will go hand in hand ; nay 
I will do more I will submit to him 
in all mechanical matters ; but I will 
by no means submit to go on with 
thieves and puppies, whose knowledge 
and integrity I contemn. Though I 
am not so saucy as many of my coun- 
trymen, I have enough of innate pride 
to prevent me from doing a mean 

action because a servile prudence may 
dictate it. If a king were to think 
Matt Washborough a better engineer 
than me, I should scorn to undeceive 
him. I should leave that to Matthew. 
The connexion would be stronger as 
the evidence would be undeniable. So 
much for heroics !....! will never 
meanly sue a thief to give me my 
own again, unless 1 have nothing left 
behind. As it now stands, I have 
enough left to make their patent 
tremble, and shall leave no mechanical 
stone unturned to aggrieve them. I 
will do more. I will publish my 
inventions, by which means they will 
be entirely precluded, because they 
must be fools indeed that will pay 
them for what they can have for 
nothing. I am very ill with a head- 
ache, therefore can write no more than 
passion dictates." 


unsuited for such a purpose. " I apprehend," he said, 
" that no motion communicated from the reciprocating 
lever of a fire-engine can ever produce a perfect circular 
motion, like the regular efflux of water in turning 
a water-wheel ! " This report relieved the Commis- 
sioners. They abandoned their scheme, and the order for 
Washborough's engine was at once countermanded. 1 

So soon as Watt had got fairly settled at Cosgarne, 
in the summer of 1781, he proceeded to work out the 
plan of a rotary-working engine. Boulton was making 
experiments with the same object at Soho, communi- 
cating to him the results from day to day. He was stimu- 
lated to prosecute the inquiry by the applications which 
he received from many quarters for steam-engines 
suitable for driving mills. He therefore urged Watt 
to complete the invention, and to prepare the drawings 
and specification, declaring his readiness at any time to 
provide the money requisite for taking out a patent. 
" The people in London, Manchester, and Birmingham," 
said he, " are steam-mill mad. I don't mean to hurry 
you, but I think that in the course of a month or two 
we should determine to take out a patent for certain 
methods of producing rotative motion from the vibrating 
or reciprocating motion of the fire-engine, remembering 
that we have four months in which to describe the par- 
ticulars of the invention." 2 

Watt proceeded to put his ideas in a definite shape as 
fast as his bad health and low spirits would allow. 
Every now and then a fit of despair came upon him 
about his liability to the bankers, and so long as it lasted 
he was unmanned, and could do nothing. At the very 

1 Washborough was much mortified 
by the decision of the Navy Board, 
and alleged that he had been badly 
used by them. The anxieties occa- 

off in October, 1781, when only in 
his 28th year. He was unquestion- 
ably a young man of much inge- 
nuity and merit, and had he lived 

sioned by his failure, and the pecu- i would have achieved high eminence 
niary losses he had sustained, preyed and distinction as an engineer, 
heavily upon his mind, and he was 2 Boulton to Watt, 21st June, 
seized by a fever which earned him j 1781. 




time that Boulton was writing the letter last quoted, 
Watt was thus bewailing his unhappy lot : 

" When I executed the mortgage," said he, " my sensations were 
such as were not to be envied by any man who goes to death in a 
just cause ; nor has time lessened the acuteness of my feelings. . . . 
I thought I was resigning in one hour the fruits of the labour of my 
whole life, and that if any accident befell you or me, I should have 
left a wife and children destitute of the means of subsistence, by 
throwing away the only jewel Fortune had presented me with. . . . 
These transactions have been such a burden upon my mind that I 
have become in a manner indifferent to all other things, and can take 
pleasure in nothing until my mind is relieved from them; and 
perhaps, from so long a disuse of entertaining pleasing ideas, never 
may be capable of receiving them any more." l 

Boulton made haste to console his partner, and pro- 
mised to take immediate steps to relieve his mind of the 
anxiety that weighed so heavy upon it; and he was 
as good as his word. At the same time he told Watt 
that he must not suppose he was the only man in the 
world who had cares and troubles to endure. Boulton 
himself 'had, perhaps, more than his share, but he 
tried to bear them as lightly as he could. With 
his heavy business engagements to meet, his large con- 
cerns to keep going, he was not a man much to be 
envied ; yet he continued to receive his visitors as 
usual at Soho, and to put on a cheerful countenance. 
"I am obliged," he wrote, "to smile, to laugh, to be 
good-humoured, sometimes to be merry, and even go to 
the play ! Oh, that I were at the Land's End ! " Such 
was his playful way of reminding Watt of the neces- 
sity of cheerfulness to enable one to get through work 
pleasantly. 2 But Watt's temperament was wholly dif- 

1 Watt to Boulton, 21st June, 

2 While Boulton spoke good hu- 
mouredly to his partner in Cornwall 
with the object of cheering him up, 
he privately unbosomed himself to his 
friend Matthews in London. When 
requesting him to call at once on the 

bankers and get the account reduced 
to an advance of 12,000?., and thus 
obtain Mr. Watt's release, he com- 
plained of the distress which the com- 
munications of the latter had caused 
him. He thought his conduct un- 
generous, taking all the circumstances 
into account, and considering that the 


ferent. His philosophy never rose to the height of 
taking things easy. He could not cast his cares behind 
him, nor lose sight of them ; but carried them about 
with him by day, and took them to bed with him at 
night ; thus making life a sort of prolonged vexation 
a daily and nightly misery. 

But a new and still more alarming source of anxiety 
occurred to disturb the mind of poor Watt, and occasion 
him many more sleepless nights. The movement to 
abolish the patent by repeal of the Act of Parliament 
having broken down, attempts were now made in many 
quarters to evade it by ingenious imitations, in which 
the principle of Watt's engine was adopted in variously 
disguised forms. But to do this successfully would have 
required an inventive faculty almost as potent as that of 
Watt himself; and he had drawn the specification of his 
patent too carefully to be easily broken through by 
the clumsy imitators who made the attempt. It was, 
however, only natural that the success of the new engine 
should draw the attention of ingenious mechanics to 
the same subject. Watt had drawn a great prize, 
and why should not they? though they little knew the 
burden of sorrow which his prize had brought upon 
him. They only knew of the large annual dues 
probably exaggerated by the tongue of rumour which 
were being paid to the patentees for the use of their 
engines ; and they not unnaturally sought to share in the 
good fortune. There might possibly be other mechanical 

firm were within a year of being j by the same rule I ought not to 
tolerably easy in money matters, neglect mine.- His wife's fortune 

" When I reflect," he wrote, " on his 
situation in 1772 and my own at that 
time, and compare them with his and 
mine now, I think I owe him little. . . 
I some time ago gave him a security 
of all my two-thirds, after paying off 
L. V. and W. [the bankers], from 
which you may judge how little 
reason he has to complain. He talks 
<>f his duty t<> his wife and children; 

joined to his own did not amount to 
sixpence: my wife brought me in 
money and land 28,000/. I advanced 
him all he wanted without a security, 
but in return he is not content with 
an ample security for advancing 
nothing at all but what he derived 
from his connexion with me." 
Boulton to Matthews, 28th June, 
1781. Boulton MSS. 


methods by which the same objects were to be accom- 
plished, without borrowing from Watt ; at all events it 
was worth trying. Hence the number of mechanical 
schemers who made their appearance almost simul- 
taneously in all parts of the country, and the number of 
new methods of various kinds contrived by them for 
the production of motive power. 

Watt was very soon informed of the schemes which 
were on foot in his immediate neighbourhood much 
too soon for his peace of mind. He at once wrote to 
his partner : " Some Camborne gentlemen (supposed 
to be Bonze and Trevi thick) have invented a new 
engine which they say beats ours two-thirds, and one of 
the partners has gone to London to procure a patent 
for it. A Mr. Yice says he has also invented a new 
engine, and that they have stolen his and compounded 
it with ours ; he intends to take out a caveat against 
them." l Though Bonze was an excellent engineer, 
and elicited the admiration of Watt himself, it turned 
out that he had no concern with the new invention. 
Its projectors proved to be the Hornblowers, also engi- 
neers of considerable local repute. Watt had befriended 
the family, arid employed them in erecting his engines, 
by which means they became perfectly familiar with 
their construction and mode of action. Jonathan Horn- 
blower had a large family of sons, of whom Jabez, 
Jesse, Jethro, and Jonathan were engineers, like their 
father. Jabez, one of the cleverest, had spent some 
time in Holland, from whence he had returned with 
some grand scheme in his head for carrying out an 
extensive system of drainage in that country. Like his 
father and the other sons, he was employed in erecting 
TVatt's engines, 2 which had the effect of directing his 

1 Watt to Boulton, 24th June, 1781. 

2 Watt befriended Jabez like the 
other members of his family, as ap- 
pears from the following passage in a 

1778): "Capt Paul has turned 
Jabez adrift, having for some time 
taken umbrage at him because he 
would do his work well and therefore 

letter to Boulton (6th September, expensively. Jabez has* a bad wile, is 


attention to the invention of a new power which should 
supersede that of his employer. 

It was for some time doubtful what was the precise 
character of the new engine. Indeed the Horn- 
blowers themselves long remained undecided about its 
actual form, being still in the throes of invention. 
They knew that they must copy discreetly, so as not to 
lay themselves too open to attack ; and though they 
urged the superiority of their engine so strongly as 
to induce several of the mining companies to believe 
in them, and even to withhold orders from Boulton 
and Watt, they refrained as yet from publishing 
their invention. Watt wrote to his partner that he 
understood the Hornblowers' engine was on some new 
principle, and the only novelty he could think of 
was a caloric air-engine. He therefore asked Boulton 
to make all the inquiries he could as to the respective 
bulks and prices per 1000 feet of all possible kinds 
of air in their most expanded states. " I am much 
vexed," he continued, " by this affair. Jabez does 
not want abilities : the rest are fools. If they have 
really found a prize, it will ruin us Bank- 
ruptcy might ensue to both. But I don't fear getting 
my bread independent of engines, though much easier 
with them." l Watt was, however, in error as to the 
nature of the Hornblowers' engine, which he discovered 
three days later, when he wrote Boulton,- 

" The matter is this : Ever since the ungrateful, idle, insolent 
Hornblowers knew anything about our engines, they have laboured 

- and unhappy. He is very clever, blower has disobliged Mr. Daniel. I 
good engineer, and industrious, j have my fears they will not employ 
though he seems not to have the | him ; but when our own business is 

faculty of conciliating people's affec- 
tions. I fear he will go to Holland, and 
as he can hurt us [there being no patent 
for the engine secured there] 1 must 

sealed to-morrow, I will make a push 
in his favour. That family hath not 
been successful in conciliating the 
affections of the people in this neigh- 

try to get him bread here." Later, bourhood." 

Houlton wrote Watt from Kcdruth * Watt to Boulton, 16th Julv, 

( 1 8th November, 1780)," Old Horn- 1781. 


to evade our Act, and for that purpose have long been possessed of 
a copy of our specification. They made an attempt at Wheal Maid 
two years ago, by connecting two cylinders together and injecting 
into one of them, which did not succeed, although they had gathered 
together numbers of their friends in order to make a great exhibition. 
Since that, Jonathan the coppersmith, who, like Alexander of the 
like trade, hath done me much evil, has laboured close at some more 
successful evasion, which he says he has now completed and taken 
a patent for, concerning which I hear as follows from public 
reports, propagated by Jethro's confidants : 1st. That Jonathan 
Hornblower is the inventor and patentee ; that Winwood, Jones and 
Company, of Bristol, are his partners and supporters with money (that 
Winwood was lately in this country on a sleeveless errand is certain) ; 
that they have made their model work to 141bs. on the inch, and 
expect it will work to ] 8 Ibs. 2ndly. That they press the piston down 
by steam, and maintain they have a right to do so, because, say 
they, it can be proved that such was done before my patent. 
I suppose by this they allude to Gainsborough's bauble, which, by- 
the-by, was after the patent. If they do not mean this I am at a 
loss, as I now declare that I do not know of any one having done it 
before the patent except myself. However, it behoves us to inquire 
into this, and if the exhibition was not a public one it avails not. 
3rdly. That they pretend to condense the steam in the cylinder ; 
but I have heard that they do it in a separate vessel within the 
cylinder, or close to it. 4thly. That they do not use an air or 
water pump, from which I conjecture that they let the hot water 
down the shaft by a pipe more than 30 feet long, as you know I 
proposed but had several objections to. You will remember, and 
I dare say Joseph and Peploe also do, that we made the 
Soho cylinder work by blowing the hot water out of the eduction- 
pipe and used no air-pump, but found a waste of steam by so doing. 
There is also some confused report about a wheel being employed 
on their engine, which makes me suspect that M. Washborough may 
be the Bristol man concerned with them." 1 

Two days later Watt wrote, " My principal hope is 
that almighty Nature will prove Lord Chancellor, and 
put a negative on their scheme. Amen, so be it! I 
abhor lawsuits, and reckon a cause half lost that is 

On the 23rd of July he returned to the subject: 
"The Homers," said he, "continue bragging of what they are to 

1 Watt to Boulton, 19th July, 1781. Boulton MSS. 




do, and I hear the country in general takes part with them, as even 
the aversion they have to the Homers does not equal the pleasure 

they would feel at our undoing The Homers say they can 

make a common engine equal to ours, but that their new engine is 
one-third better. We must now attend to making use of all the 
elastic power of the steam, which, unless I am much deceived, will 
save one-half over our best engines, and at any rate it may easily 
be applied to work the condenser, which will save about one-eighth. 
I will not conceal from you that I am rendered very unhappy by 
one thing and another, but fight with it all I can." 

In the mean time Boulton continued to urge Watt to 
complete the specification and drawings of his rotative 
engine, informing him of the success of the model 
which he had now completed at Soho : 

" Though you studied a thousand years," said he, " I do not 
think you could make one ten per cent, better than a small model 
with two cones which Joseph has executed after my drawings. It 
has little friction, goes sweeter than anything of the kind you have 
yet touched, and has not the least shake. It is so perfect that I 
don't consider it worth while even to think of any other for hori- 
zontal motions. I am therefore positively decided in my mind as 
to the necessity of taking out a patent and including in it all the 
principles and constructions you please; for if it be not secured 
soon we may lose it." l 

In the same letter, Boulton communicated to Watt the 
rumours that had reached him from Scotland of more 
inventions of engines that were to beat Watt's out of the 
field. " The cry is still, they come!" said he. " Hatley 
from Scotland is going with Lord Dunmore to Virginny ; 
says that he and somebody else in Scotland have in- 
vented an engine that is three times better than yours/' 

1 Boulton to Watt, 28th June, 
1781. On the 3rd July following he 
writes, " The great rotative engine 
is finished, and I expected the union 
between it and the little engine would 
have been performed this evening, but 
it can't be till to-morrow. Robert set 
the elliptic out so true that it had no 
shake and required no alteration. It 
goes so much better than the little 

model made by Joseph that I am now 
ashamed to send the little one. The 
great model makes a delightful hori- 
zontal foot -lathe. I gave it a few 
strokes with my foot, and it made 30 
revolutions after T withdrew it, and 
that in a quiet and peaceable manner, 
which shows how steady and friction- 
less it is." 




Boulton recommended that a search should be made at 
the Patent-Office, to ascertain what was going on in 
new engine patents. Watt entirely approved of this, 
and urged that the search should be made at once. " I 
do not think we are safe a day to an end," he wrote, 
" in this enterprising age. One's thoughts seem to be 
stolen before one speaks them. It looks as if Nature 
had taken an aversion to monopolies, and put the same 
thing into several people's heads at once to prevent 
them ; and I begin to fear that she has given over 
inspiring me, as it is with the utmost difficulty that I 
can hatch anything new." 

Notwithstanding this confession on the part of Watt, 
his inventive faculties were really never at any period 
of his life more vigorous than now ; for he was rapidly 
maturing his rotative engine, with its various ingenious 
methods for securing circular motion ; and working out 
the details of the double-cylinder expansion engine, with 
its many admirable contrivances hereafter to be de- 
scribed. Boulton continued to receive applications at 
Soho, from various quarters, for engines capable of 
working flour-mills and other machinery, and Watt 
himself was urged by like inquiries from manufacturers 
in Cornwall. " Mr. Edwards," he wrote Boulton, " waits 
impatiently the success of our rotative machine. He 
wants a power able to lift a hammer of 700 Ibs., 2 feet 

high, 120 times per minute In relation to the 

circular engine, an experiment should be made on a 
large scale, and to work a hammer. I want your ideas 
on that head." 1 A fortnight later, Watt had matured 
his own ideas, and made the necessary declaration of 
his invention before a magistrate, preliminary to making 
the usual application for a patent. 2 

1 Watt to Boulton, 5th July, 1781. 

2 " Yesterday I went to Penryn and 
swore that I had invented ' certain 
new methods. of applying the vibrating 

or reciprocating motion of steam or 
fire engines to produce a continued ro- 
tation or circular motion round an 
axis or centre, and thereby to give 


Watt was exceedingly busy about this time in super- 
intending the erection of new engines. No fewer than 
twelve were in progress in different parts of the county. 
As he travelled about from one mine to another on 
horseback, and spent a good deal of his time in the open 
air, his mind was diverted from preying upon itself 
according to his ordinary habit, and his health and 
spirits improved accordingly. Boulton was equally busy 
at Soho, where he was erecting a powerful engine for 
blowing the furnaces at Walker's ironworks at JRother- 
ham, and another for Wilkinson's forges at Bradley, in 
which he proposed to employ a double cylinder, with a 
double crank 1 and a pair of fly-wheels. At intervals 
he went into Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Shropshire, to 
look after various other engines in progress ; writing 
Watt cheerful letters as to the improving prospects of 
the firm. He found the steam-engine everywhere 
gaining in public estimation. " The more it is known," 
he wrote, " the more it will be in demand. As to the 
scheme of the Hornblowers, they shall sooner press me 
down into the earth than they shall press down a piston 
with steam." And again, " Give yourself no uneasiness 
about the Homers' engine. Our title to the invention is 
as clear as can be ; and it is as well secured as an Act of 
Parliament can make it 

" Doubt that the sun is fire, 
Doubt all the powers of sight, 
Doubt truth to be a Iyer, 
But never doubt our right." 

Watt's first surmise, that the Hornblowers intended 
to work their engine by heated air or g^as, had set 
Boulton upon a series of inquiries and experiments on 

motion to the wheels of mills or other making use of the cranks. " In rela- 
machines,' which affidavit and petition tion to Wilkinson's forges, I wish you 

I transmit to Mr. Hadley by this post 
with directions to get it passed with 
all due expedition." Watt to Boulton, 
26th July, 1781. 

Watt suggested caution as to July, 1781. 

would execute them without the 
double crank. We shall soon have a 
bad enough lawsuit on our hands 
without it."- Watt to Boulton, 10th 


the subject, in which he was assisted by Dr. Priestley, 
who had shortly before settled in Birmingham, and was 
a willing co-operator in all investigations of this nature. 
Their object was to ascertain whether it was practicable 
to produce mechanical power by the absorption and 
condensation of gas on the one hand, and by its disen- 
gagement and expansion on the other. 

" What yon propose," Watt wrote, " is exceeding probable, and 
akin to what I have long contemplated the use of mixed air 
and steam, which have a wonderful expansion and contraction. 
Nevertheless, I fear that there is in all such cases a proportional 
assumption of latent heat ; but be it tried though it be beginning a 
new series of vexations and expense. ... I suspect that a forcible 
compression would hinder the gas from separating from the water, 
and on the contrary any tolerable degree of vacuum would hinder 
the water from attracting it ; but perhaps part of both may be used. 
. . . My greatest hope is in the expansive engine with double or 
single cylinder, which I consider as proved by many facts, and 
shall send you my ideas of the execution of it very soon. At the 
same time I am clear to take the air patent, which, as I have worded 
the petition, may include some other improvements on the steam- 
engine. ... I hope my last letters have relieved you, as the 
knowledge of the Homers' being a steam-engine working on our 
principle relieved me. I have some trust in tl^e judges, though I 
have little in the law ; and I think impartial people will regard us 
as injured persons, and not suffer the thief of our horse to escape 
because he has painted him of another colour." ' 

Watt's fears for his patent were about this time 
excited anew by the great Arkwright trial, in which 
Arkwright was nonsuited, and compelled to forego the 
rights derived from his improvements and combinations 
of spinning-machinery. The principal ground on which 
the patent was set aside was that the specification was 
unintelligible. On this, Watt observed, 

" Though I do not love Arkwright, I don't like the precedent of 

1 Watt to Boulton, 28th July, I " there is nothing to be feared from 

1781. A few days later Boulton 
wrote Watt that Dr. Priestley had pro- 
ceeded with the experiments, and that 
he had come to the conclusion that 

any of the tribe of gases, which cannot 
be produced nearly so cheap as steam ; 
and as to steam you know its limits 
better than any man." 




setting aside patents through default of specification. I fear for our 
own. The specification is not perfect according to the rules lately 
laid down by the judges. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that we 
have hid our candle under a bushel. We have taught all men to 
erect our engines, and are likely to suffer for our pains. ... I begin 
to have little faith in patents ; for, according to the enterprising 
genius of the present age, no man can have a profitable patent but 
it will be pecked at, and no man can write a specification of a fire- 
engine that cannot be evaded, if the words and not the true intent, 
and meaning be attended to. As kissing goes by favour, and as, in 
dubious cases, men are actuated by their prejudices, so, where a blue 
is very like a green they may decide either way." * 

Watt continued to be alarmed by the rumours of 
the forthcoming Hornblowers 5 engine. " I have heard," 
lie wrote, " that a female confidant of Jonathan's has 
seen the engine, and says that they evaporate half 

a hogshead of water with one ounce of coals ! 

that in a few days they are to publish in print what 
their invention is, illustrated with a copper-plate. 
Then we shall see and admire, if God pleaseth; I hope 
we shall not believe and tremble." Later he wrote, 
"Our cause is good, and yet it has a bad aspect. 
We are called monopolists, and exactors of money from 
the people for nothing. Would to God the money and 
price of the time the engine has cost us were in our 
pockets again, and the devil might then have the 
draining of their mines in place of me. Yet all are not 
alike. Some are just, and I believe do not grudge us, 

1 Watt to Boulton, 30th July, 
1781. Later he wrote, " I am tired 
of making improvements which by 
some quirk or wresting of the law 
may be taken from us, as I think 
has been done in the case of Ark- 
wright, who has been condemned 
merely because he did not specify 
quite clearly. This was injustice, 
because it is plain that he has given 
this trade a being has brought his 
invention into use and made it of 
great public utility. Wherefore he 
nil the money lie has got. : 

In my opinion his patent should not 
have been invalidated without it had 
clearly appeared that he did not invent 
the things in question. 1 fear we 
shall be served with the same sauce 
for the good of the public I and in 
that case I shall certainly do what he 
threatens. This you may be assured 
of, that we are as much envied here 
as he is at Manchester, and all the 
hells in Cornwall would be rung at 
our overthrow." Watt to Boulton, 
13th August, 1781. 


and some are friendly. All this is to no purpose. The 
law must decide whether we have property in this affair 
or not, and we must submit to what we cannot help." l 

At length Watt learnt the precise nature of the Horn- 
blowers' invention. "It is no less," he wrote Boulton, 
" than our double-cylinder engine, worked upon our 
principle of expansion." This was an old idea of Watt's, 
which he had pursued while labouring upon his model 
at Kinneil. " It is fourteen years," he said, " since I 
thought of the double-cylinder engine, and I think that 
I mentioned it to Mr. Smeaton, when I explained the 
expansion engine to him in your parlour, some years 
ago. Wm. Murdock and Mr. Henderson can testify to 
my having mentioned it to them ; but this of the 
Homers seems to be a different thing, being hung on 
the same beam." 2 As early as May, 1769, he had com- 
municated to Dr. Small a clear and explicit description 
of his method of working steam expansively ; and he 
adopted the principle -in the Soho engine, in 1778, as 
well as in the Shad well engine erected in the same year. 
He was, however, prevented carrying it out extensively 
in practice by the inexpertness of the workmen. 
" Though the effect of the steam," he explained to a cor- 
respondent, " is thereby increased 50 per cent, (by theory 
100 per cent.), it cannot be done without rendering the 
machine more complicated than we wish ; and simplicity 
is a most essential point in mechanics. There are other 
contrivances known to us which would increase the 
effect in an inferior degree, say from one-fourth to one- 
sixth, but they are all attended with peculiar inconve- 
niences which forbid their use until the illiterate and 
obstinate people who are intrusted with the care of the 
engines become more intelligent and better acquainted 
with the machine." 3 

1 Watt to Boulton, 13th November, 1791. 

1781. 3 Watt to Samuel Ewer, jun., 9th 

* Watt to Boulton, 19th November, July, 1781. Boulton MSS. 


Though suffering much from his usual headaches, 
which frequently disabled him from thinking, Watt 
finished the drawings of the rotary engine in a week, 
and forwarded them to Boulton at Soho. " I believe," 
he said in a later letter, " a well-regulated expansive- 
engine is the ne plus ultra of our art." But he intimated 
that a new trouble had come upon him in the shape of 
another inventor of a steam-engine in which all the dis- 
tinctive principles of his own invention were embodied. 
" If he be engine mad," said Watt, " and if it be agree- 
able to you, he shall have my share of them, provided 
he will come to my price. I wish to retire, and eat my 
cake in peace, but will not go without the cake. All 
mankind seem to have resolved to rob us. Eight or 
wrong, they will pluck the meal from our mouths." 1 
Boulton, on his next journey to London, called upon the 
alleged inventor, a Mr. Ewer, and declared to Watt that 
the invention, so far as it was new, was not worth a 
farthing, and that all that was good in it was borrowed 
from their engine. " Though the white marks on your 
cow or your horse," said he, " may be changed to black, 
the cow and horse are not the less your property." He 
therefore counselled Watt to relieve himself of all 
anxiety on this account. Watt replied, " Ewer seems to 
have a genius more capable of inventing than of pru- 
dently examining the merits of his invention. Poets 
lose half the praise they would otherwise get did they 
but tell us what they discreetly blot. We must publish 
a book of blots." 

Meanwhile Watt went on inventing, even while he 
was complaining of his inability to invent, and of the 
uselessness of inventing. Invention had grown into a 
habit with him, which he could not restrain. In the 
very letter in which he wrote "It is of no use inventing 
everybody is seizing upon our schemes," he commu- 

Watt to Boulton, 30th August, 1781. 





nicated to Boulton that he had contrived a machine, then 
erecting at Dalcoath, for the purpose of stopping the 
engine when at full speed, when any accident happened 
to the rods or outside chains, first taking away the 
power, and then holding the bob fast whenever it might 
be at the turn. 1 A few days later he communicated 
that he had contrived a new way of opening the regu- 
lators. He was also finishing his plan of the new 
equalising beam, and the double expansion engine, 

1 Watt to Boulton, 30th August, 
1781. In a subsequent letter he ex- 
plained the invention as follows : 
" The method I propose to stop an 
engine when the pump rods break 
is by means of an air bellows or 
forcing pump of a good large diameter 
fixed in the shaft and having a solid 
piston in it which is wrought con- 
stantly by the engine and quite easily 
while it goes at its ordinary speed, 
because there is a large valve open 
in its bottom or rather top, which 
suffers the air to pass and repass easily ; 

but whenever the engine attempts to 
move quick, that valve shuts and all 
exit from the air is cut off, and it 
becomes a feather-bed to save the 
blow of the engine. This is exempli- 
fied by turning the valve-hole of a 
common bellows upwards and stopping 
the nozzle, then working the bellows 
first slowly and then quickly. I 
think this contrivance will be of great 
use and may prevent damage, espe- 
cially those bangs which occur in 
setting on an engine." Watt to 
Boulton, 27th September, 1781. 




which he requested might be proceeded with at once. 
" I have shown the equalising beam," said he, " to no 
person whatever. Please push it on. It is our dernier 
ressort, and may perhaps be all that villany will leave 
us, and that not long." Boulton wrote back, bidding 
his partner to be of good heart. " If our spirits don't 
fail us," said he, " I think our engine won't." 

At the same time Watt was inventing his new 
jointed top-working gear, which he reported answered 
exceedingly well with the Dalcoath engine ; and, in 
pursuance of an idea thrown out by Boulton, he per- 
fected the model of a horizontal-axled elliptical with one 
pulley, which he described as performing a merveille, 
being free from all untoward frictions. He was also 
busy inventing a new method of an equalising beam, 
by causing the gudgeon to change its place; and 
another by means of a roller acting upon a curve in 
the nature of the working gear. Besides his experi- 
ments in mechanics, he was prosecuting investigations 
as to the properties of nutgalls in combination with 
various chemical substances, for the purpose of obtaining 
the best kind of ink for use with his copying machines ; 
and at another time we find him contriving various 
iron cements for joints, confessing that he had " lost all 
faith in putty ;" the result of which was his discovery of 
the well-known metallic cement. 

In the correspondence between the partners on these 
various topics, w^e seem to see the ideas out of which so 
many inventions grew, in their various stages of birth, 

1 Boulton to Watt, 10th September, 
1781. Boulton immediately pro- 
ceeded with the erection of the new 
engine as secretly as possible. " The 
principles of the expansion engine," 
said he to Watt, " you had invented 
before Dr. Small died, as Mr. Keir 
can testify as well as others. However, 
it is highly proper to execute every 
kind of beam that can be devised for 

the purpose of equalising the power. 
I have removed the little portions into 
the wooden house next the smith's 
shop, and have blinded the window 
and barred the door. There is a con- 
venient well that can be filled from 
the back brook, and the engine may 
be applied to the raising of water, 
which is the best sort of load to calcu- 
late from." 

x 2 


growth and development. They concealed nothing 
from each other, but wrote with the most perfect 
unreserve. Each improved on the other's ideas, Watt 
upon Boulton's, and Boulton upon Watt's ; both expe- 
rimenting on the same subject at the same time, and 
communicating the results in the most elaborate detail. 
The phrase often occurs in their letters : " I write thus 
fully that you may see exactly what is passing in my 
mind!' The letters were sometimes of extraordinary 
length, one of Boulton's (dated 25th September, 1781) 
extending to eight pages folio, closely written, con- 
taining upwards of 4000 words. Scarcely a day passed 
without their spending several hours in writing to each 
other. Boulton also kept up a correspondence with 
Mrs. Watt, in addition to his elaborate letters to her 
husband. The lady entered into various matters of per- 
sonal interest, describing her occupations and domestic 
pursuits, and communicating the state of her husband's 
health, which was a matter of no less interest to Boulton 
than to herself. 

As the autumn set in with its fogs and rains, Watt's 
headaches returned with increased severity, and he 
repeatedly complained to Boulton of being " stupid and 
ill, and scarcely able to think." " I tremble," said he, 
" at the thought of making a complete set of drawings. 
I wish you could find me out a draughtsman of abilities ; 
as I cannot stand it much longer." ] Watt's temper was 
also affected by the state of his health ; and he con- 
fessed that he felt himself not at all cut out for the 
work he had to do, so far as related to business : "I am 
not philosopher enough," he said, " to despise the ills of 
life ; and when I suffer myself to get into a passion, 
I observe it hurts me more than it does anybody else. 
I never was cut out for business, and wish nothing so 
much as not to be obliged to do any; which perhaps 

Watt to Boulton, 20th {September, 1781. 


will never fall to my lot; therefore I must drag on a 
miserable existence the best way I can." 1 

Watt was very busy at this time in preparing the 
specification and drawings of the circular motion, which 
he said he found an extremely difficult job owing to the 
distracted state of his head. The letters patent for 
the invention had been secured on the 25th October, 
1781, and he had four months allowed him in which to 
prepare and lodge the full description. He laboured at 
his work late and early, his mind being for months in the 
throes of invention. In the beginning of November we 
find him writing to Boulton, sending him the " first three 
yards of the specification," written out on folio sheets 
joined together. Watt's letters to his partner at this 
time contain numerous rough sketches of his proposed 
methods for securing circular motion without using the 
crank, from which he conceived himself to be in a 
measure precluded by Pickard's patent. He devised 
no fewer than five distinct methods by which this object 
might be accomplished, by means of wheels of various 
sorts rotating round an axis. 
The method eventually pre- 
ferred was the one invented 
by Wm. Murdock, and com- 
monly known as the sun and 
planet motion. 2 "It has the 
singular property," said Watt, 
" of going twice round for each 
stroke of the engine, and may 
be made to go oftener round 
if required without additional 


Eough sketches of these va- 
rious methods were forwarded to Soho in order that the 
requisite careful drawings of them might be prepared in 

1 Watt to Boulton, 18th October, 1781. 

2 Watt, in a letter to Boulton, dated the 3rd July, 1782, speaks of it 




time to be lodged with the specification ; but when they 
reached Watt in Cornwall, he declared them to be so 
clumsily executed that he could not for very shame send 
them in ; and though greatly pressed by mining business, 
and suffering from " backache, headache, and lowness 
of spirits," he set to work to copy them with his own 
hands. He worked up his spare time so diligently, 
that in ten days he had the plans finished and returned 
to Boulton, whom he wrote saying that he had im- 
proved the construction of several of the machines, 
and " got one copy of the specification drawing finished 
in an elegant manner upon vellum, being the neatest 
drawing he had ever made." ] The necessary measures 
being then taken to perfect the patent, it was duly 
enrolled on the 23rd February, 1782. 

During the time that Watt was busy completing the 
above specification and drawings, his mind was full of 
other projects, one of which was the perfecting of his 
new expansive engine. 2 It is curious to find him, in 
his letters to Boulton, anticipating the plan of super- 
heating the steam before entering the cylinders, which 
has since been carried into effect with so much success. 

as an old plan of his own " revived 
and executed by William Murdock ;" 
but we were informed by the late 
Mr. Josiah Parkes, that at an inter- 
view which he had with Mr. Watt at 
Heathfield, at which Murdock was 
present, Murdock spoke of the Sun 
and Planet motion as his invention, 
which Watt did not contradict. 
Boulton also attributed the invention 
to Murdock, as appears from his letter 
to Henderson, dated 22nd January, 
1782; in which he says, "Mr. Watt's 
packet is not ready. 1 am to wait till 
his drawings [of the rotatory motion] 
are completed, which he is executing 
himself. There was some informality 
in those sent from Soho. Besides, he 
has another rotative scheme to add, 
which I could have told him of long 
ago, when first invented by William 
Murdock, but I did not think it a 

matter of much consequence." 

1 Watt to Boulton, 26th Jan., 1782. 

2 " 1 have some time ago thought," 
wrote Watt, " of a new expansive 
engine a reciprocating engine with a 
heavy circular fly moved by a pinion 
from the end of the beam, so as to 
make three turns per down-stroke and 
as many contrariwise per return; so 
that in. the first half of the stroke it 
may acquire a momentum which will 
carry it through the last half; and if 
a weight equal to half the load be put 
upon the inner end of the beam, and 
the engine be made to lift it during 
the return, by making a vacuum 
above the piston and using a rack 
instead of a chain, a cylinder of the 
present size may work to the same 
depth by half the steam ; and I believe 
the engine will work very sweetly." 
Watt to Boulton, 16th January, 1782. 


By the middle of March he had sufficiently matured 
his ideas of a reciprocating expansive engine to enable 
him to take out letters patent, and the invention was 
enrolled on the 4th of July in the same year. It 
included the double engine and double-acting engine 
(steam pressing the piston upwards as well as down- 
wards), the employment of steam on the expansive 
principle, various methods of equalising the power of 
the engine, the toothed rack and sector for guiding 
the piston-rod, and a rotative engine or steam-wheel. 
While perfecting these beautiful adaptations, Watt was 
often plunged in the depths of distress through many 
causes, by sickness, headaches, and low spirits ; by 
the pecuniary difficulties of the firm; by the repeated 
attempts of the Cornish miners to lower their dues ; and 
by threatened invasions of his patent from all quarters. 
Another of his worries was the unsteadiness of his 
workmen. His letters to Boulton were full of com- 
plaints on this score. Excepting Wm. Murdock, who 
was in constant demand, there was scarcely one of them 
on whom he could place reliance. " We have very 
little credit, indeed," said he, " in our Soho workmen. 
James Taylor has taken to dram-drinking at a most 
violent rate, is obstinate, self-willed, and dissatisfied." 
And again, " Cartwright's engine has been a continued 
scene of botching and blunders. J. Smith and the rest 
are ignorant, and all of them must be looked at daily, 
or worse follows. Had I had any one man of common 
prudence and experience, who would have attended 
from morning till night, these things might have been 
avoided, and my life would have been more comfortable. 
As things are, it is much otherwise." 1 Three months 
later, matters had not mended. J. Smith is pronounced 
" a very slow hand," and " J. Taylor is sometimes three 
days together at the alehouse, except when he judged I 

1 Watt to Boulton, 20th September, 1781. 




should be going my rounds Dick -Cartwright 

also continues too much devoted to beer I have 

read all our men lectures upon industry and good 
hours, though I fear it will not be to much purpose ; 
idleness is ingrained in their constitution." Boulton 
wrote to him to " send home the most rascally of the 
Sohoites ; " but this was impracticable, as better men to 
replace them were not at that time to be had. Things 
were quite as bad at Soho itself; for early in 1782 we 
find Boulton writing thus : " The forging-shop wants a 
total reformation ; Peploe and others constantly drunk ; 
spoke mildly to them at first, then threatened, and am 
now looking out for good hands, which are very 
scarce." 2 

William Murdock was by far the ablest and most 
efficient of the Soho men, and won golden opinions 
in all quarters; so much so, that he was in constant 
request. We find him described as " flying from mine 
to mine," putting the engines to rights. If anything 
went wrong, Murdock was immediately sent for. He 
was active, quick-sighted, shrewd, indefatigable, and an 
excellent workman. His wages, down to 1780, were 
only 205. a week, and, thinking himself worth more, he 
asked for an advance to two guineas. Boulton, instead 
of refusing, adroitly managed to obtain a present of ten 
guineas from the owners of the United Mines, to which 
he added other ten, in acknowledgment of the admirable 

1 Watt to Boulton, 20th December, 

2 Boulton to Watt, 26th March, 
1782. The following was Boulton's 
method of dealing with a refractory and 
drunken workman: "I told you in 
my former letters how Jim Taylor 
had gone on, that I had talked to him 
in a friendly way but all to no purpose. 
He came last Monday evening to the 
smith's shop, drank more ale, was 
sent for, and he became abusive to 
the men, saying we had nobody could 
work well but himself, and that we 

could not do without him. The next 
morning I went into the shop pre- 
determined to part with him. I 
stopped the noise of bellows and 
hammers, and appealed to the jury of 
the shop for the justice of my deter- 
mination, and made the best use I 
could of the example. I sent Taylor 
off with deserved contempt, and to 
convince him that we really could do 
without him. However we are very 
much behind hand in nozzles." 
Boulton to Watt,- 19th April, 


manner in which he had erected their new engine ; Mr. 
Beauchamp, the Chairman of the Company, having 
publicly declared that "he regarded William as the 
most obliging and industrious workman he had ever 
known." Though Murdock's wages were not then 
raised, and though Bonze, the Cornish engineer a man 
of means as well as of skill and experience invited 
him to join in an engineering partnership, William 
remained loyal to the Boulton and Watt firm, and in 
due time he had his reward. 

Murdock's popularity with the Cornishmen increased 
so much that Watt seems to have grown somewhat 
jealous of him, for when William was to be had, they 
preferred him to Watt himself. 1 At Wheal Yirgin, 
the adventurers insisted upon having him all to them- 
selves ; but this was not practicable, as there were other 
engines in progress requiring constant attention, 
Wheal Crenver, which Watt described as "in the 
enemy's country, Pool hardly completed yet, and Dal- 
coath in its childhood." 

" I cannot now leave Wheal Virgin a single day," wrote Watt, 
" without running the risk of some vile blunder, particularly as the 
boilers are now setting. Win. Murdock was at Wheal Virgin one 
day this week, and that day was taken up with Mr. Wedgwood, 2 so 

1 " To-day was account day at 
Wheal Virgin, when there was nothing 
remarkable, only that Mr. Phillips 
insisted upon William Murdock 
being wholly at Wheal Virgin, which 

Watt to Boulton, 15th November, 

2 One of the pleasantest events 
that occurred to Watt in the course 
of his stay in Cornwall, was the visit 

I told him could not possibly be com- j of Wedgwood, who had come to 
plied with, unless I went to Crenver inspect some of the mines in which, 
in his place, as I had nobody else on Boulton's recommendation, he had 

to send thither; nevertheless, that 
William should be here as much as 
possible. This did not satisfy him, 
and 1 know not what to do, as Crenver 
will be ready to work in three weeks 

and must not be delayed I 

think my personal attendance should 
satisfy Wheal Virgin adventurers, but 
as they seem to have more confidence 
in William, I will for peace's sake 

taken an interest, and at the same 
time to search for clays for use in his 
earthenware and porcelain manufac- 
ture at Etruria. " Mr. Wedgwood," 
he wrote Boulton, "has been in this 
country some days hunting clays and 
soap rocks, cobalts, &c. I have had 
two visits of him at the expense of a 
day and a half. Nevertheless I don't 
grudge that, as I am glad to see a 

yield to their will, .being satisfied that | Christian. He has just left me.' 
William will do the business well." Watt to Boulton, 18th October, 1781. 




that it was partly lost. Yesterday he was taken away by Crenver 
people and is not returned. I fear I cannot get much of his help, 
and I assure you I need it much, for there cannot be a greater 
plague than to have five engines making by ignorant men and no 
helpmate to look after them. I have been tolerably well these few 
days, but cannot get up my spirits, from having too much to think 

Combined with the troubles arising out of the per- 
versities, blunderings, and bad conduct of his workmen, 
Watt had also to struggle against torment of mind and 
body, aggravated by bad news from home. Boulton 
was in the crisis of his troubles with his partner 
Fothergill, from which he was desperately struggling 
to shake himself free. 1 

Watt was made additionally miserable by the state of 
the bankers' account, which was still overdrawn to a 
very large amount. The bankers were urgent for 
repayment, but neither of the partners saw where the 
money was to come from. Watt again thought of 
giving up altogether, and selling his share of the 
business as the only means of relief which presented 

" I am almost moved," he wrote, " if Lowe, Vere, and Williams 
will free me from any demands on my future industry, to give up 
my present property altogether, and trust to Providence for my 
support. I cannot live as I am with any degree of comfort. The 
want of the superfluities of life is a trifle compared with continual 
anxiety. I do not see how you can pay L. V. & W. WOOL per 

1 Fothergill died insolvent in 1782. 
Notwithstanding what he had suffered 
by the connexion, Boulton acted with 
great generosity towards Fothergill's 
family, providing for his widow and 
orphan children. " Whatever the 
conduct of any part of that family 
towards me may have been," said he, 
" their present distresses turn every 
passion into tender pity. I waited 
upon Mrs. Fothergill this morning, 
and administered all the consolation 
that words could give, but I must do 
more, or their distresses will be great 
indeed. I never wished for life and 

health so fervently as at present ; for I 
consider it my duty to act as a father 
to that family to the best of my 
power, and the addition of a widow 
and seven children is no small one." 
Boulton was as good as his promises ; 
and he not only helped the Fothergill 
family through their difficulties, but 
he undertook to pay an annual sum 
(though under no obligation to do so) 
to a Mrs. Swelling-rebel a widowed 
lady from whom Fothergill had ob- 
tained money which he lost; and 
who, but for Boulton's generous help, 
must have been left destitute. 


quarter ; I am sure it cannot be from the engine business, unless 
we can reduce the amount of our general expenses to and live 
upon air ourselves. . . . Though you and I should entirely lose this 
business and all its profits, you will get quit of a burdensome debt ; 
and as both of us lived before it had a being, so we may do after- 
wards. Therefore consider what can be done, and do it without 
reluctance, or with as little as you can ; and depend upon it that I 
am sincerely your friqnd, and shall push you to nothing that I do 
not think to be for your advantage." l 

Two days later, while still in a heavily desponding 
humour, he wrote thus : 

" If matters were to come to the worst, many methods may be 
fallen upon whereby we may preserve some consequence in the 
world. A hundred hours of melancholy will not pay one farthing 
of debt. Summon up your fortitute and try to turn your attention 
to business, and to correct the abuses at Soho. . . . All the idlers 
should be told that in case they persevere in want of attention, then 
dismission must ensue. . . . The Soho part of the business has been 
somehow a perpetual drain to us, and if it cannot be put on a better 
footing, must be cut off altogether by giving out the work to be 
done by others." 2 

To add to their troubles, a fire broke out in the house 
of Boulton and Watt's London agent for the sale of their 
copying machines, and the building, with its contents, 
was burnt to the ground, thereby causing a loss to the 
firm of above a thousand pounds. The mining trade 
was also wretchedly bad in Cornwall, several of the 
more important mines being unproductive, while ore 
was selling at low prices. The adventurers were 
accordingly urging Watt to abate the agreed dues for 
the use of their engines, and in several cases threatened 
to close the mines unless he did so. The United Mines 
asked to be reduced 50/. a month. Watt having refused 
to make the abatement, the mine was ordered to be 
stopped, on which he consented to give up the dues 
altogether for a period of six months. " There seemed," 
he wrote to Boulton, "to be no other course, if we 

1 Watt to Boulton, 16th March, 1782. 

2 Watt to Boulton, 18th March, 1782. 


would maintain our right, and at the same time do 
justice to the poor people, who must otherwise absolutely 
starve, and are already riotously disposed through the 
stopping of Wheal Yirgin." l "In short," said he, 
" almost the whole county is against us, and look upon 
us as oppressors and tyrants, from whose power they 
believe the horned imps of Satan are to relieve them." 
Watt was indeed thoroughly sick of Cornwall, and 
longed to get back to Birmingham. He confessed he 
did not see how, under the present state of things, he 
could be of any more use there. The weather was very 
tempestuous, and he felt the fatigue of travelling from 
mine to mine too much for him to endure. On the 4th 
of April he wrote, " I returned from the coast to Cos- 
game last night with an aching head, after a peregrina- 
tion of two days in very stormy weather." " Upon the 
whole," he wrote to Boulton, " I look upon our present 
Cornish prospects as very bad, and would not have you 
build too much upon them nor upon the engine business, 
without some material change. I shall think it prudent 
to look out for some other way of livelihood, as I expect 
that this will be swallowed up in merely paying its 
burdens." 2 Watt, accordingly, finding that he could 
do no more good in Cornwall, left it about the middle 
of April, and returned with an aching head and heavy 
heart to Birmingham. 

1 Watt to Boulton, 27th March, 1782. 

2 Watt to Boulton, 30th March, 1782. 




THE battle of the firm had hitherto been all up-hill. 
Nearly twenty years had passed since Watt had made 
his invention. His life since then had been a constant 
struggle, and it was a struggle still. Thirteen years 
had passed since the original patent had been taken 
out, and seven since the Act had been passed for its 
extension. But the engine had as yet yielded no 
profit, and the outlay of capital continued. Notwith- 
standing Boulton' s energy and resources, the partners 
were often in the greatest straits for money, and some- 
times, as Saturday nights came round, they had to beat 
about among their friends for the means of paying the 
workmen's wages. 

Though Watt continued to imagine himself on the 
brink of ruin, things were not really so gloomy as 
he supposed. We find Boulton stating in a con- 
fidential letter to Matthews, that the dues payable on 
the pumping-engines actually erected in 1782 amounted 
to 43 2 01. a year; and that when all the engines in 
progress had been finished, they would probably amount 
to about 9000/. It is true, the dues were paid with 
difficulty by the mining interest, still in a state of 
great depression, but Boulton looked forward with con- 
fidence to better days coming round. Indeed, he already 
saw his way through the difficulties of the firm, and 
encouraged his doleful partner to hope that in the course 
of a very few years more, they would be rid of their 


As Cornwall was, however, now becoming well sup- 
plied with pumping-engines, it became necessary to open 
up new branches of business to keep the Soho manufac- 
tory in full work. With this object, Boulton became more 
and more desirous of applying the engine to the various 
purposes of rotary motion. In one of his visits to 
Wales, in 1781, he had seen a powerful copper-rolling 
mill driven by water, and when told that its defect was 
that it was liable to be stopped in summer during drought, 
he immediately asked " Why not use our engine ? It 
goes night and day, summer and winter, and is 
altogether unaffected by drought." Immediately on his 
return home, he made a model of a steam rolling-mill, 
with two cylinders and two beams, connecting the 
power by a horizontal axis ; and by the end of the year 
he had a steam forge erected at Soho on this plan. 
"It answers very well," he wrote to Matthews, "and 
astonishes all the ironmasters ; for, although it is a 
small engine, it draws even more steel per day than 
a large rolling-mill in this neighbourhood draws by 
water." Mr. Wilkinson was so much pleased with it 
that he ordered one to be made on a large scale for the 
Bradley ironworks; and another was shortly after 
ordered for Eotherham. But the number of iron mills 
was exceedingly limited, and Boulton did not anticipate 
any large extension of business in that quarter. If, how- 
ever, he could once get the rotary engine introduced as 
the motive power for corn and flour mills, he perceived 
that the demand would be considerable. Writing to 
Watt on the subject, he said, "When Wheal Virgin is 
at work, and all the Cornish business is in good train, 
we must look out for orders, as all our treaties are 
seemingly at an end, having none now upon the tapis. 
There is no other Cornwall to be found, and the most 
likely line for increasing the consumption of our engines 
is the application of them to mills, which is certainly an 
extensive field." 


Watt, on his return to Birmingham from Cornwall, 
proceeded to embody his plan for securing rotary motion 
in a working engine, so that he might be enabled to 
exhibit the thing in actual work. He was stimulated to 
action by the report which reached his ears that a 
person in Birmingham had set agoing a self-moving 
steam rotator, in imitation of his, on which he exclaimed, 
" Surely the Devil of Eotations is afoot ! I hope he 
will whirl them into Bedlam or Newgate." 1 Boulton, 
who had by this time gone to Cornwall for the winter, 
wrote to him from Cosgarne, "It is certainly expensive ; 
but nevertheless I think, as we have so much at stake, that 
we should proceed to execute such rotatives as you have 
specified. . . . You should get a good workman or two 
to execute your ideas with despatch, lest they perish. 
The value of their wages for a year might be 100/., but 
it would be the means of our keeping the start that we 
now have of all others. But above all, there is nothing 
of more importance than the perfect completion of the 
double expansive reciprocating engine as soon as may 
be. 2 Watt replied that he was busily occupied in getting 
the rotative motion applied to one of the Soho engines. 
" These rotatives," said he, " have taken up all my time 
and attention for months, so that I can scarcely say that 
I have done anything which can be called business. 
Our accounts lie miserably confused. We are going on 
in a very considerable weekly expense at Soho, and I 
can see nothing likely to be produced from it which will 
be an equivalent." Speaking of the prospect of further 
improvements, he added, "It is very possible that, 
excepting what can be done in improving the mechanics 
of the engine, nothing much better than we have 
already done will be allowed by Nature, who has fixed 
a ne plus ultra in most things." : 

1 Walt to Boulton, 19th September, 1782. 
* Boulton to Watt, 28th September, 1782. 
3 Watt to Boulton, 3rd October, 1782. 




While thus hopelessly proceeding with the rotative 
engine, Watt was disquieted by the intelligence which 
reached him from Boulton, as to the untoward state of 
affairs in Cornwall. At some of the most important 
mines, in which Boulton and Watt held shares, the 
yield had considerably fallen off, and the price of the 
ores being still very low, they had in a great measure 
ceased to be remunerative. Hence appeals were made 
to Boulton on all sides for an abatement of the engine 
dues. Unwilling to concede this, the adventurers pro- 
ceeded to threaten him with the Hornblowers, whose 
engine they declared their intention of adopting. As, 
however, Boulton and Watt's engines were all going 
exceedingly well, and as the Hornblowers had not yet 
been able to get one of their boasted engines to work 
satisfactorily, 1 the adventurers hesitated for the present 
to take any overt steps in the matter. 

Boulton had a long and disagreeable battle to fight 
with the adventurers on this point, which lasted for 
many months, during which the Hornblowers continued 
to stimulate them with the agreeable prospect of 
getting rid of the dues payable in respect of the savings 
of fuel by the condensing engines. Boulton resisted 
them at every point single-handed ; the battle being, as 
he said, " Boulton and Watt against all Cornwall." 2 He 
kept Watt fully informed from day to day of all that 
passed, and longed for more rapid means of communi- 

1 " On my road to this place 
(Cosgarne) I stayed two days at 
Bristol in order to learn the-particulars 
of Hornblower's new engine erected in 
that neighbourhood, and I had the 
satisfaction to find that it is worse 
than a common engine, although made 
upon our principles; but from the 
various evasions introduced it is as 
bad as need be. Nevertheless I 
think we should stop it in order to 
stop the effects of the numerous lies 
they propagate in this county, and 
other mischiefs." Boulton to Watt, 

30th September, 1782. 

2 " I don't know a man in Cornwall 
amongst the adventurers," he wrote, 
" but what would think it patriotism 
to free the mines from the tribute 
they pay to us, and thereby divide 
our rights amongst their own dear 
selves. Nevertheless, let us keep our 
tempers, and keep the firm hold we 
have got ; let us do justice, show 
mercy and walk humbly, and all, I 
hope, will be right at last." 
Boulton to Watt, 2nd November, 


cation, the postal service being then so defective that no 
less than thirteen days elapsed before Boulton, at Truro, 
could receive an answer from Watt at Birmingham. 
On one occasion we find Watt's letter eleven days on 
the road between the two places. The partners even 
had fears that their letters were tampered with in 
transit; and, in order to carry on their correspondence 
confidentially, Watt proposed to employ a shorthand 
alphabet, which he had learnt from Dr. Priestley, in 
which to write at least the names of persons, " as our 
correspondence," he observed, "ought to be managed 
with all possible secrecy, especially as to names." 

Boulton, as usual, led a very active life in Corn- 
wall. Much of his time was occupied in riding from 
mine to mine, inspecting the engines at work, and 
superintending the erection of others. The season 
being far advanced, the weather was bad, and the 
roads miry; but, wet or dry, he went his rounds. In 
one of his letters he gives an account of a miserable 
journey home on horseback, on a certain rainy, windy, 
dark night in November, when he was " caught in water 
up to 1 2 hands." " It is very disagreeable," he adds, " that 
one cannot stay out till dark upon the most emergent 
business without risking one's life." But once at home 
he was happy. " The greatest comfort I find here," he 
says, "is in being shut out from the world, and the 
world from me. At the same time I have quite as 
much visiting as I wish for." One of his favourite 
amusements was collecting and arranging fossils, some 
for his friend Wedgwood, and others for his own " fos- 
silry" at Soho. Boulton was well supported out of 
doors by William Murdock, now regarded as " the right 
hand " of the concern in Cornwall. 

" Murdock hath been indefatigable," he wrote Watt, " ever since 
they began [at AY heal Virgin new Engine]. He has scarcely been 
in bed or taken necessary food. . . . After slaving day and night on 
Thursday and Friday, a letter came from \Vheal Virgin that he 



must go instantly to set their engine to work or they would let out 
the fire. He went and set the engine to work : it worked well for 
the five or six hours he remained. He left it and returned to the 
Consolidated Mines about eleven at night, and was employed about 
the engines till four this morning, and then went to bed. I found 
him at ten this morning in Poldice Cistern, seeking for pins and 
casters that had jumped out, when I insisted on his going home to 
bed." l 

On one occasion, when an engine superintended by 
Murdock stopped through some accident occurring to 
it, the water rose in the mine, and the miners were 
drowned out. Upon this occurring, they came " roaring 
at him" for having thrown them out of work, and 
threatened to tear him to pieces. Nothing daunted, he 
went through the midst of the men, and proceeded to 
the invalided engine, which he succeeded in very shortly 
repairing and setting to work again. The miners were 
so rejoiced that they were carried by their feelings 
into the opposite extreme; and when he came out of 
the engine-house they cheered him vociferously, and 
insisted upon carrying him home on their shoulders 
in triumph! 

About this time, Boulton became increasingly anxious 
to ascertain what the Hornblowers were doing. They 
continued to brag of the extraordinary powers of the 
engine erected by them at Eadstoke, near Bristol, 
whither he proposed to go, to ascertain its construc- 
tion and qualities, as well as to warn the persons who 
were employing them as to the consequences of their 
infringing the existing patent. But he was tied to 
Cornwall by urgent business, and could not leave his 
post for a day. " During the forking of these two great 
mines," said he, " I dare not stir two miles from the 
spot, and it will yet be six weeks before I regain my 
liberty." 2 He determined, therefore, to send over 
James Law, a Soho man on whom he could rely, to 

1 Boulton to Watt, 30th September, 1782. 

2 Eoulton to Watson of Bristol, 7th November, 1782. 


ascertain, if possible, the character of the new engine, 
and he also asked his partner Watt to wait upon the 
proprietors of Radstoke so soon as he could make it 
convenient to do so. Law accordingly proceeded to 
Radstoke, and soon found out where the engine was ; 
but as the Homers were all in the neighbourhood, 
keeping watch and ward over it turn and turn about, 
he was unable to see it except through the engine-house 
window, when it was not working. He learnt, how- 
ever, that there was something seriously wrong with 
it, and that the engineers were considerably crestfallen 
about its performances. 

Watt proceeded to Bristol, as recommended by his 
partner, for the purpose of having a personal inter- 
view with Hornblower's employers. On his arrival, he 
found that Major Tucker, the principal partner, was 
absent ; and though he succeeded in seeing Mr. Hill, 
another of the partners, he could get no satisfactory 
reply from him as to the intentions of the firm with 
respect to the new engine. Having travelled a hundred 
miles on his special errand, Watt determined not to 
return to Birmingham until he had seen the principal 
partner. On inquiry he found that Major Tucker had 
gone to Bath, and thither Watt followed him. At Bath 
he found that the Major had gone to Melcompton. Watt 
took a chaise and followed him. The Major was out 
hunting ; and Watt waited impatiently at a little ale- 
house in the village till three o'clock, when the Major 
returned " a potato-faced, chuckle-headed fellow, with 
a scar on the pupil of one eye. In short," said Watt, 
" I did not like his physiog." After shortly informing 
the Major of the object of his visit, who promised to 
bring the subject under the notice of his partners at a 
meeting to be held in about three weeks' time, Watt, 
finding that he could do no more, took his leave ; but, 
before he left Bristol, he inserted in the local papers an 
advertisement, prepared by Boulton, cautioning the 

Y 2 


public against using the Hornblowers' engine, as being 
a direct infringement of their patent. For the present, 
indeed, there seemed but little reason to apprehend 
danger from the Hornblowers, whose engine was still 
undergoing alterations in detail, if not in principle ; and 
it appeared doubtful, from the trials which had been 
made of it, whether it would ever prove an economical 
working engine. 

Watt then returned to Birmingham, to proceed with 
the completion of his rotary motion. Boulton kept 
urging that the field for pumping-engines was limited, 
that their Cornish prospects were still gloomy, and that 
they must very soon look out for new fields. One of 
his schemes was the applying of the steam-engine to 
the winding of coals. "A hundred engines at 100/. 
a year each," he said, " would be a better thing than all 
Cornwall." But the best field of all, he still held, was 
mills. "Let us remember," said he, "the Birmingham 
motto, to ' strike while the iron is hot. 5 ' 

"Watt, as usual, was not so sanguine as his partner, 
and rather doubtful of the profit to be derived from 
this source. From a correspondence between him and 
Mr. William Wyatt, of London, on the subject, we 
find him discouraging the scheme of applying steam- 
engines to drive corn-mills ; on which Boulton wrote 
to Wyatt, 

" You have had a correspondence with my friend Watt, but I 
know not the particulars. . . . You must make allowance in what 
Mr. Watt says ... he under values the merits of his own works. 
. . . 1 will take all risks in erecting an engine for a corn-mill. . . . 
I think I can safely say our engine will grind four times the quantity 
of corn per bushel of coal compared with any engine hitherto 
erected." * 

About the same time we find Boulton writing to 

" You seem to be fearful that mills will not answer, and that you 

1 Boulton to Wyatt, 16th December, 1782. 


cannot make Reynolds's amount to more than 201. a year. For my 
part, I think that mills, though trifles in comparison with Cornish 
engines, present a field that is boundless, and that will be more 
permanent than these transient mines, and more satisfactory than 
these inveterate, ungenerous, and envious miners and mine lords. 
As to the trouble of small engines, I would curtail it by making a 
pattern card of them (which may be done in the course of next year), 
and confine ourselves to those sorts and sizes until our convenience 
admits of more." * 

In the mean time "Watt, notwithstanding his doubts, 
had been proceeding" with the completion of his rotative 
machine, and by the end of the year applied it with 
success to a tilt-hammer, as well as to a corn-mill at 
Soho. Some difficulties presented themselves at first, 
but they were speedily surmounted. The number of 
strokes made by the hammer was increased from 18 per 
minute in the first experiment, to 25 in the second ; 
and -Watt contemplated increasing the speed to even 
250 or 300 strokes a minute, by diminishing the height 
to which the hammer rose before making its descending 
blow. " There is now no doubt," said he, " that fire- 
engines will drive mills; but I entertain some doubts 
whether anything is to be got by them, as by any com- 
putation I have yet made of the mill for Reynolds 
[recently ordered] I cannot make it come to more than 
20. per annum, which will do little more than pay 
trouble. Perhaps some others may do better." 2 

The problem of producing rotary motion by steam- 
power was thus solved to the satisfaction even of Watt 
himself. But though a boundless field for the employ- 
ment of the engine now presented itself, Watt was 
anything but elated at the prospect. For some time 
he doubted whether it would be worth the while of the 
Soho firm to accept orders for engines of this sort. 
When Boulton went to Dublin to endeavour to secure 
a patent for Ireland, Watt wrote to him thus : " Some 

1 Boulton to Watt, 7th December, 


2 Watt to Boulton, 28th November, 






people at Burton are making 1 application to us for an 
engine to work a cotton-mill ; but from their letter and 
the man they have sent here, I have no great opinion 

1 The above illustration represents 
the first engine employed at Soho, 
with the alterations subsequently in- 
troduced, for the purpose of producing 
rotary motion. The old Kinneil 
engine, "Beelzebub," as Watt called 
her, was entirely removed, and re- 
placed by this engine, as explained by 
Watt in his MS. Memoir of Boulton 
now before us, wherein he states, 
" The first engine of 18 inches cylin- 
der, which was employed in returning 
the water to Soho mill, was replaced 
about 1778 or 1779 by a larger engine, 
the first on the expansive principle, 
which still remains there." The 

engine became known at Soho as 
" Old Bess," and she continued in 
regular work until within the last 
eight years. The illustration shows 
the state in which the engine now 
stands in South Kensington Museum. 
A. steam cylinder ; B. steam pipe ; C. 
throttle valve; D. steam valve; E. educ- 
tion valve ; F. eduction pipe ; G. valve 
gearing; H. condenser; I. air pump; K. 
air pump rod; L. foot valve; M. hand 
gear tappet rod ; N. parallel motion ; 
0. balance weight ; P. rocking beam ; 
Q. connecting rod ; R. feed pump rod ; 
S. sun wheel; T. planet wheel; U. fly 
wheel ; W. governor ; X. feed water 




of their abilities If you come home by way of 

Manchester, please not to seek for orders for cotton-mill 
engines, because I hear that there are so many mills 
erecting 011 powerful streams in the north of England, 
that the trade must soon be overdone, and consequently 
our labour may be lost." Boulton, however, had no 
such misgivings. He foresaw that before long the 
superior power, regularity, speed, and economy, of 
the steam-engine, must recommend it for adoption in 
all branches of manufacture in which rotative motion 
was employed ; and he had no hesitation in applying 
for orders notwithstanding the opposition of his partner. 
The first rotary engine was made for Mr. Eeynolds, of 
Ketley, towards the end of 1782, and was used to drive 
a corn-mill. It was some time before another order was 
received, though various inquiries were made about 
engines for the purpose of polishing glass, grinding 
malt, rolling iron, and such like. 1 The first engine of 
the kind erected in London was at Groodwyn and Co.'s 
brewery; and the second, still working, though in an 
altered form, at the Messrs. Whitbread's. These were 
shortly followed by other engines of the same descrip- 
tion, until there was scarcely a brewery in London 
that was not supplied with one. 

In the mean time, the works at Soho continued to be 
fully employed in the manufacture of pumping-engines. 
But as the county of Cornwall was becoming well 
supplied, no fewer than twenty-one having now been 
erected there, only one of the old Newcomen construc- 
tion continuing in work, it was probable that before 

1 " We have had a visit to-day 
from a Mr. Cort of Gosport, who says 
he has a forge there, and has found 
out some grand secret in the making 
of iron, by which he can make double 
the quantity at the same expense and 
in the same time as usual. He says 
he wants some kind of engine, but 
could not tell what ; wants some of us 

to call on him, and says he had some 
correspondence with you on the sub- 
ject. He seems a simple goodnatured 
man, but not very knowing. He 
says he has most of the smith-work 
for the king's yard, and has a forge, 
a rolling and slitting mill. I think 
him a brother projector." Watt to 
Boulton, 14th December, 1782. 


long the demand from that quarter must slacken, if 
not come to an end. There were, however, other 
uses to which the pumping-engine might be applied ; 
and one of the most promising was the drainage of 
the Fen lands. Some adventurers at Soham, near 
Cambridge, having made inquiries on the subject, Watt 
wrote to his partner, "I look upon these Fens as 
the only trump card we have left in our hand." * The 
adventurers proposed that Boulton and Watt should 
take an interest in their scheme by subscribing part of 
the necessary capital. But Watt decidedly objected 
to this, as he did not wish to repeat his Cornish diffi- 
culties in the Fens. He was willing to supply engines 
on reasonable terms, but as for shares he would have 
none of them. The conclusion he eventually arrived at 
with respect to his proposed customers was this, " Con- 
sider Fen men as Cornish men, only more cunning." 

In the midst of his great labours, Boulton was re- 
minded that he was human. He had for years been 
working at too high pressure, and the tear and wear 
began to tell upon his health. Watt expostulated with 
him, telling him that he was trying to do half-a-dozen 
men's work; but in vain. He was committed to so 
many important enterprises he had so much at stake 
the liabilities he had to meet from day to day were so 
heavy that he was in a measure forced to be active. 
To his friend Matthews he lamented that he was under 
the necessity of " slaving from morning till night, 
working fourteen hours a day, in the drudgery of a Bir- 
mingham manufacturer and hardware merchant." But 
this could not last, and before long he was threatened 
with a break-down. His friends Drs. Withering and 
Darwin urged him at once to " knock off" and take a 
long holiday to leave Soho and its business, its cor- 
respondence, and its visitors, and get as far away from it 
as possible. 

1 4th December, 1782. 


Acting on their advice, he resolved on making a long- 
promised visit to Scotland, and he set out on his tour 
in the autumn of 1783. He went by Newcastle, where 
he visited the principal coal mines, and from thence to 
Edinburgh, where he had some pleasant intercourse 
with Dr. Black and Professor Robison. It is evident 
from his letters that he did not take much ease during 
his journey, for he carried about with him his steam- 
engine at least in his head. " I talked with Dr. Black 
and another chemical friend," he wrote, " respecting my 
plan for saving alkali at such bleach-grounds as our fire- 
engines are used at instead of water-wheels : the Doctor 
did not start any objections, but, on the contrary, much 
approved it." From Edinburgh he proceeded to the 
celebrated ironworks at Carron, a place in which he 
naturally felt a peculiar interest. There his friend 
Roebuck had started his great enterprise, and there 
Watt had erected his first engine. His visit there, 
however, was not so much for curiosity or pleasure, but 
for business and experiment. " During my residence in 
Scotland," said he, " one month of my time was closely 
employed at Carron Ironworks in settling accounts, but 
principally in making a great number of experiments 
on all their iron ores, and in putting them into the train 
of making good bar-iron, in which I succeeded to my 
wishes, although they had never made a single bar of 
tough iron at Carron before." l In the course of his 
journey he made a large collection of fossils for his 
museum, and the weight of his bags sensibly increased 
almost daily. On his way through Ayrshire he called 
on Lord Dundonald, a kindred spirit in chemical and 
mechanical scheming, and examined his mineral tar 
works. He wrote to Mr. Gilbert, the Duke of Bridge- 
water's manager at Worsley, that " the tar is better for 
the bottoms of vessels than the vegetable tar ; and the 

Letter to Thomas Knox, M.P. 




coal-oil hath many uses. Query if such a work might 
not be a useful appendage to your colliery and canal." 

Boulton returned to Soho greatly improved in health, 
and was shortly immersed as before in the business of 
the factory. He found considerable arrears of corre- 
spondence requiring to be brought up. Several of the 
letters waiting for him were from schemers of new 
inventions connected with the steam-engine. Whenever 
an inventor thought he had discovered anything new, 
he at once rushed to Boulton with it. He was looked 
upon as the lord and leader of steam power. His repu- 
tation for enterprise and business aptitude, and the 
energetic manner in which he had pushed Watt's inven- 
tion, were now so widely known, that every new 
schemer saw a fortune within his reach could he but 
enlist Boulton on his side. Hence much of his time 
was occupied in replying to letters from schemers, 
from inventors of perpetual motion, of flying-machines, 
of locomotion by steam, and of various kinds of rotary 
motion. In one of his letters we find him complaining 
of so much of his time being " taken up in answering 
great numbers of letters he had lately been plagued 
with from eccentric persons of no business ; " for it was 
his practice never to leave a letter unanswered, no 
matter how insignificant or unreasonable his corre- 
spondent might be. 1 

1 With an almost excess of polite- 
ness, Boulton wrote long letters to 
unknown correspondents to set them 
right about mechanical errors into 
which they seemed to him to have 
fallen. Thus a Mr. Knipe of Chel- 
sea, supposing he had discovered 
a perpetual motion machine, wrote 
inviting Boulton to join him as a 
partner. Though the man was without 
means and evidently foolish, Boulton 
wrote him several long letters in the 
kindest spirit, pointing out that his 
scheme was contrary to reason and sci- 
ence. "It is impossible," said he, " for 

inanimate mechanism to produce the 
least degree of power or to augment 
the sum total of the primum mobile. 
Mechanism may communicate or con- 
centrate or economise power, but cannot 
create or augment it." Knipe replied 
at great length, vindicating his inven- 
tion. His enthusiasm pleased Boulton, 
who, in the generosity of his nature, 
sent him a draft for ten guineas on his 
London bankers to enable the poor 
inventor to secure his invention if 
there was really anything in it. But 
nothing more was heard of Knipe's 
Perpetual Motion Machine. 




After a short visit to London, Boulton proceeded into 
Cornwall to look after the engines there, and watch the 
progress of the mining operations in which by this time 
he had become so largely interested. He found the 
adventurers in a state of general grumble at the badness 
of the times, the lowness of prices, the losses incurred 
in sinking for ore that could not be found, and the 
heaviness of the dues for engine-power payable to 
Boulton and Watt. At such times, the partners were 
usually beset with applications for abatement, to which 
they were under the necessity of submitting to prevent 
the mines being altogether closed. Thus the dues at 
Chacewater were reduced from 2500/. to 1000/. a year, 
and the adventurers were still pressing for further 
reductions. 1 What provoked Boulton most, however, 
was, not the loss of dues so much as the threats which 
were constantly held out to him that unless the demands 
of the adventurers were complied with, they would 
employ the Hornblowers. 

" It is a disagreeable thing," he wrote, " to live amongst one's 
enemies, and all the adventurers are so, except Phillips and the Foxes, 
who are fair men although they would rather have engines free. I 
have had many hints given me that the Trumpeters were reviving 
their mischief, and many causes for uneasiness, but I did not wish 
you to partake of them, and therefore have been silent ; but they 
are now striking at the root of us, and therefore we must defend 

1 No wonder the miners were so 
urgent for reductions in working ex- 
penses, as we find from a communica- 
tion from Watt to Boulton, of facts to 
be laid before Parliament against the 
proposed tax on coal, that Ohacewater 
had sunk 50,000?. in setting the mine 
to work ; Wheal Virgin 28,000?. in 
ten months, and still unprosperous ; 
Poldice a very large sum, and merely 
paying expenses ; Wheal Chance 
35,000?., and only moderately pros- 
perous; Pool 14,000?., without much 
prospect of recovery ; Roskere lan- 
guishing, and not paying expenses; 
United Mines, which had been at 

death's door, still in a tottering 
state; Wheal Union stopped, after 
losing about 8000?.; Dalcoath 500?. 
spent on timber per month, and a new 
kibble-rope, of above a ton weight, 
worn out in a fortnight. [To draw a 
kibble of ore then, weighing about 
3 cwt., took fully fifteen minutes, 
owing to the great depth of that mine, 
and two-thirds of the stuff drawn was 
stones.] To which Watt added, " if we 
had not furnished the miners with 
more effectual means of draining the 
water, almost all the deep mines 
would have been abandoned before 


ourselves or fall. ... I think if we could but keep up our spirits 
and be active we might vanquish all the host. But I must own 
that I have been low-spirited ever since I have been here have 
been indolent, and feel as if the springs of life were let down." 

It does not, however, appear from the letter to Watt 
in which this complaint occurs, that Boulton had been 
at all indolent, as he speaks of being in almost daily 
attendance at the miners' meetings ; one day at Poldice, 
the next at Consolidated Mines, and so on. Of the 
latter meeting he says, - 

" There was a full attendance ; Jethro looked impudent, but 
mortified to see the new little engine drawing kibbles from two pits 
exceedingly well and very manageable, and afterwards it worked 
six stamps each 2% = 14 cwt., lifted twice at each revolution, or 
four times for every stroke of the engine. I suppose there were a 
thousand people present to see the engine work." 

Watt was, on his part, rather opposed to making 
further concessions, which only seemed to have the effect 
of inviting demands for more. 

" People," said he, " do not employ us out of personal regard, but 
to serve themselves ; and why should not we look after ourselves 
in like manner. . . . John Taylor died the other day worth 200,000?., 
without ever doing one generous action. I do not mean that we 
should follow his example. I should not consent to oppression or to 
take any unfair advantage of my neighbour's necessity, but I think 
it blameable to exercise generosity towards men who display none 
towards us. It is playing an unfair game when the advantage is 
wholly on their side. If Wheal Virgin threatened to stop unless 
we abated one-half, they should stop for me ; but if it appeared that, 
according to the mode settled in making the agreement, we had 
too high a premium, I should voluntarily reduce it to whatever was 

While Boulton was fighting for dues in Cornwall, 
and labouring as before to improve the business 
management of the mines in which he was interested 
as a shareholder, Watt was busily occupied at Soho in 
turning out new engines for various purposes, as well 
as in perfecting several long-contemplated inventions. 
The manufactory, which had for a time been unusually 




slack, was again in full work. Several engines 
were in hand for the London brewers. Wedgwood had 
ordered an engine to grind flints ; * and orders were 
coming in for rotative engines for various purposes, 
such as driving saw-mills in America and sugar-mills in 
the West Indies. Work was, indeed, so plentiful that 
Watt was opposed to further orders for rotatives being 
taken, as the drawings for them occupied so much time, 
and they brought in but small profit. " I see plainly," 
said he, " that every rotation engine will cost twice the 
trouble of one for raising water, and will in general pay 
only half the money. Therefore I beg you will not 
undertake any more rotatives until our hands are clear, 
which will not be before 1785. We have already more 
work in hand than we have people to execute it in the 
interval." 2 

One reason why Watt was more than usually econo- 
mical of his time was, that he was then in the throes of 
the inventions patented by him in the course of this 
year. Though racked by headaches which, he com- 
plained, completely " dumfounded " him and perplexed 
his mind, he could not restrain his irrepressible instinct 
to invent ; and the result was the series of inventions 
embodied in his patent of 1784, including, among other 
things, the application of the steam-engine to the 
working of a tilt-hammer for forging iron and steel, to 
driving wheel-carriages for carrying persons and goods, 
and for other purposes. The specification also included 
the beautiful invention of the parallel motion, of which 
Watt himself said, " Though I am not over anxious after 
fame, yet I am more proud of the parallel motion than of 
any other mechanical invention I have ever made." Watt 
was led to meditate this contrivance by the practical 

1 The engine was of 40-horse power. 
It was erected at the " Black Works," 
Etruria, where it continues working 
with the sun and planet motion, one 
of the very few engines of the old 

construction still remaining in ex- 

2 Watt to Poulton, 22nd June, 


inconvenience which he experienced in communicating 
the direct vertical motion of the piston-rod by means of 
^ racks and sectors, to the 

U angular motion of the 

1 Rfelfea* working beam. He was 

gradually led to entertain 
the opinion that some 
means might be contrived 
for accomplishing this ob- 
ject by motions turning 
upon centres ; and, work- 
ing upon this idea, he 
J gradually elaborated his 

THE P^KAIXEL MOTION invention. So soon as he 

caught sight of the possible means of overcoming the 
difficulty, he wrote to Boulton in Cornwall, 

" I have started a new hare. I have got a glimpse of a method of 
causing a piston-rod to move up and down perpendicularly by only 
fixing it to a piece of iron upon the beam, without chains or 
perpendicular guides or untowardly friction, arch heads, or other 
pieces of clumsiness; by which contrivance it answers fully to 
expectation. About 5 feet in the height of her house may be saved 
in 8 -feet strokes, which I look upon as a capital saving, and it will 
answer for double engines as well as for single ones. I have only 
tried it in a slight model yet, so cannot build upon it, though I 
think it a very probable thing to succeed. It is one of the most 
ingenious, simple pieces of mechanism I have ever contrived, but I 
beg nothing may be said on it till I specify." l 

He immediately set to work to put his idea to the 
practical proof, and only eleven days later he wrote, 

" I have made a very large model of the new substitute for racks 
and sectors, which seems to bid fair to answer. The rod goes up 
and down quite in a perpendicular line without racks, chains, 
or guides. It is a perpendicular motion derived from a combination 
of motions about centres very simple, has very little friction, has 
nothing standing higher than the back of the beam, and requires 
the centre of the beam to be only half the stroke of the engine 
higher than the top of the piston-rod when at lowest, and has 

1 Watt to Boulton, 30th June, 1784. Boulton MSS. 




no inclination to pull the piston-rod either one way or another, only 
straight up and down. . . . However, don't pride yourself on it it 
is not fairly tried yet, and may have unknown faults." * 

Another of Watt's beautiful inventions of the same 
period, was the Governor, contrived for the purpose of 
regulating the speed of the engine. This was a point 
of great importance in all cases where steam-power was 
employed in processes of manufacture. To modify the 
speed of the piston in the single-acting pumping-engine, 
Watt had been accustomed to use what is called a 
throttle valve, which was regulated by hand as occasion 
required. But he saw that to ensure perfect uniformity 
of speed, the action of the engine must be made auto- 
matic if possible, and with this object he contrived the 
Governor, which has received no improvement since it 
left his hand. Two balls are fixed to the ends of arms 
connected with the engine by a moveable socket, which 
plays up and down a vertical rod re- 
volving by a band placed upon the 
axis or spindle of the fly-wheel. Ac- 
cording to the centrifugal force with 
which the balls revolve, they diverge 
more or less from the central fixed 
point, and push lip or draw down the 
moveable collar ; which, being con- 
nected by a crank with the throttle- 
valve, thereby regulates with the most 
perfect precision the passage of the 
steam between the boiler and the 
cylinder. When the pressure of steam 
is great, and the tendency of the en- 
gine is to go faster, the governor 
shuts off the steam ; and when it is less, the governor 
opens the throttle-valve and increases the supply. By 


1 The parallel motion was first put 
in practice in the engine erected for 
Mr. Whitbread ;. Watt informing 

Boulton (27th October, 1785) that 
" the parallel motion of Whitbread's 
answers admirably." 


this simple and elegant contrivance the engine is made 
to regulate its own speed with the most beautiful pre- 

Among the numerous proposed applications of the 
steam-engine about this time, was its employment as 
a locomotive in driving wheel-carriages. It will be 
remembered that Watt's friend Robison had, at a very 
early period, directed his attention to the subject ; and 
the idea had since been revived by Mr. Edgeworth, 
who laboured with great zeal to indoctrinate Watt with 
his views. The latter, though he had but little faith in 
the project, nevertheless included a plan of a locomotive 
engine in his patent of 1784 ; but he took no steps to 
put it in execution, being too much engrossed with 
other business at the time, His plan contemplated the 
employment of steam either in the form of high-pressure 
or low-pressure, working the pistons by the force of 
steam only, and discharging it into the atmosphere 
after it had performed its office, or discharging it into 
an air-tight condenser made of thin plates or pipes, with 
their outsides exposed to the wind or to an artificial 
current of air, thereby economising the water which 
would otherwise be lost. 

Watt did not carry his design into effect ; and, so far 
as he was concerned, the question of steam locomotion 
would have gone no further. But the subject had 
already attracted the attention of William Murdock, 
who had for some time been occupied during his leisure 
hours in constructing an actual working model of a 
locomotive. When his model was finished, he proceeded 
to try it in the long avenue leading to the parsonage at 
Redruth, in the summer of 1784; and in so doing 
nearly frightened out of his wits the village pastor, 
who encountered the hissing, fiery little machine, while 
enjoying his evening walk. 1 

Lives of Engineers,' iii. 77. 




When Watt heard of this experiment, he wrote to 
Boulton, advising that Murdock should be gently coun- 
selled to give up his scheme, which might have the 
effect of withdrawing him from the work of the firm, 
in which he had become increasingly useful. 

"As to my own part," wrote Watt, " I shall form no obstacle to 
the scheme. My only reasons against it were that I feared it would 
deprive us of a valuable man ; that it would, if we were to be con- 
cerned in it, divert us from more valuable business, and perhaps 
prove a sinking fund ; and lastly, that I did not like that a scheme 
which I had revolved in my mind for years and hoped to be able at 
some favourable time to bring to perfection, if capable of it, should 
be wrested from me, or that I should be compelled to go into it as a 
secondary person. But I have now made the latter objection give 
way. And as to the first, I think it will take place at any rate, so 
we must make the best of it." l 

Boulton was accordingly recommended in the first 
place to endeavour to dissuade Murdock from pursuing 
the subject further, but if he could riot succeed in that, 
rather than lose him, he was to let him have an advance 
to the extent of 100/., to enable him to prosecute his 
experiments; and if within a year he succeeded in 
making an engine capable of drawing a postchaise 
carrying two ordinary persons and the driver, with 
200 Ibs. of luggage, fuel for four hours, and water for 
two hours, going at the rate of four miles an hour, then 
a partnership was to be entered into, in which Boulton 
and Watt were to find the capital, and Murdock was to 
conduct the business and take his share of the profits. 

1 In a letter dated 28th August, 
1784, Watt communicated his views 
to his partner on the subject of loco- 
motive engines at great length. In 
the course of the letter he says, 

" My original ideas on this subject were 
prior to my invention of the improved 
engines, or before the crank or any other 
rotative motions were thought of. My 
plan then was to have two inverted cylin- 
ders with toothed racks instead of piston 
rods, which were to be applied to the 
ratchet wheels on the axletree, and to act 
alternately ; and I am partly of opinion that 

this method might be applied with advan- 
tage yet, because it needs no fly, and has 
other conveniences. 

" From what I have said, and from much 
more which a little reflection will suggest 
to you, you will see that without several 
circumstances turn out more favourable than 
has been stated, the machine will be clumsy 
and defective, and that it will cost much 
time to bring it to any tolerable degree of 
perfection ; and that for me to attempt to 
interrupt the career of my business to bestow 
any attention to it, would be imprudent. 
I even grudge the time I have taken to write 
these comments on it." 




Murdock, however, had so many urgent matters to 
attend to, that, sanguine though he continued to be as 
to the success of his scheme, he could not find time 
to pursue it. He was a man after Boulton's own heart, 
unsparing of himself and indefatigable in whatsoever 
he undertook ; nor was Boulton sparing of praises of 
him in his confidential letters to Watt. 

" We want more Murdocks," he wrote on one occasion, " for of all 
our men he is the most active. He is the best engine erector I ever 
saw, and of his energy I had one of the best proofs this day. They 
stopped Poldice lower engine last Monday and took her all to pieces ; 
took out the condenser, took up out of the shaft the greatest part of 
the pumps, took the nozzles to pieces, cut out the iron seatings and 
put in brass ones with new valves, mended the eduction-pipe, 
and did a great number of repairs about the beam and engine ; put 
the pumps down into the new engine shaft, did much work at the 
new engine ; and this done, about noon both the engines, new and 
old, were set to work again complete. When I look at the work 
done it astonishes me, and is entirely owing to the spirit and 
activity of Murdock, who hath not gone to bed for three nights, 
and I expect the mine will be in full fork again by Wednesday 
night. I have got him into good humour again without any 
coaxing, have prevailed on him not to give up Wheal Virgin 
engine, which he had been resolved to do from the ungenerous 
treatment he received from the captains. I have also prevailed on 
him to put off his determined journey to Scotland until North 
Downs engines are got to work, and have quieted his mind about 
wheel carriages till then." ' 

Notwithstanding Watt's fears of a falling off, the 

1 Boulton to Watt, 8th November, 
1784. Though Murdock was thus 
occupied, he did not abandon his idea 
of making a working locomotive. Two 
years later we find Watt thus writing 
Boulton : 

" I am extremely sorry that W. Murdock 
still busies himself with the steam carriages. 
In one of my specifications I have secured it, 
as well as words could do, according to my 
idea of it, and if to that you add Syming- 
ton's and Sadler's patents, it can scarcely be 
patentable, even if free of the general specifi- 
cation in the Act of Parliament ; for even 
granting that what I have done cannot secure 
it, yet it can act as a prior invention against 
anybody else ; and if it cannot be secured by 

patent, to what purpose should anybody 
labour at it ? 1 have still the same opinions 
concerning it that 1 had, but to prevent as 
much as possible more fruitless argument 
about it, 1 have one of some size under hand, 
and am resolved to try if God will work a 
miracle in favour of these carriages. I shall 
in some future letter send you the words of 
my specification on that subject. In the 
mean time I wish William could be brought 
to do as we do, to mind the business in 
hand, and let such as Symington and Sadler 
! throw away their time and money in hunting 
shadows." Watt to Boulton, 12th Sept., 
1786. In a subsequent letter, Watt ex- 
presses himself as much gratified to learn 
" that William applies to his business." 



POLGOOTH. QBy R. P. Leitch.] 

engine business still continued to prosper in Cornwall. 
Although the mining interests were suffering from 
continued depression, new mines were being opened 
out, for which pumping-engines were wanted ; and 
Boulton and Watt's continued to maintain their supe- 
riority over all others. None of their threatened rivals 
had yet been able to exhibit an engine in successful 
work; and those of the old construction had been 
almost completely superseded. In 1784, new engines 
were in course of erection at Poldice, New Poldory, 
Wheal Maid, Polgooth, and other mines. Almost the 
last of the Newcomen engines in Cornwall had been 
discarded at Polgooth in favour of one of Boulton and 
Watt's 58-inch cylinder engines. 

The dues paid yearly in respect of these and other 
engines previously erected were very considerable ; 
Boulton estimating that, if duly paid, they would 
amount to about 12, GOO/, a year. There seemed, there- 

z 2 


fore, every reasonable prospect of the financial difficulties 
of the firm at last coming to an end. 

Boulton's visit to Cornwall on this occasion was en- 
livened by the companionship of his wife, and her friend 
Miss Mynd. Towards midsummer he looked forward with 
anticipations of increased pleasure to the visit of his two 
children his son Matt and his daughter Nancy during 
their school holidays. It was a source of much regret to 
him, affectionate as his nature was, that the engrossing 
character of his business prevented him enjoying the 
society of his family so much as he desired. But he 
endeavoured to make up for it by maintaining a regular 
correspondence with them when absent. His letters to 
his children were full of playfulness, affection, and good 
advice. To his son at school he wrote telling him of 
his life in Cornwall, describing to him the house at 
Cosgarne, the garden and the trees he had planted 
in it, the . pleasant rides in the neighbourhood, and the 
visit he had just been paying to the top of Pendennis 
Castle, from which he had seen about a hundred sail of 
ships at sea, and a boundless prospect of land and water. 
He proceeded to tell him of the quantity of work he did 
connected with the engine business, how he had no 
clerk to assist him, but did all the writing and drawing 
of plans himself: "When I have time," said he, "I 
pick up curiosities in ores for the purpose of assays, for 
I have a laboratory here. There is nothing would so 
much add to my pleasure as having your assistance in 
making solutions, precipitates, evaporations, and crystal- 
lisations." After giving his son some good advice as 
to the cultivation of his mind, as calculated to render 
him an intelligent and useful member of society, he pro- 
ceeded to urge upon him the duty of cultivating polite 
manners, as a means of making himself agreeable to 
others, and at the same time of promoting his own 
comfort. " But remember," he added, " I do not wish 
you to be polite at the expense of honour, truth, sin- 


cerity, and honesty ; for these are the props of a manly 
character, and without them politeness is mean and 
deceitful. Therefore, be always tenacious of your honour. 
Be honest, just, and benevolent, even when it appears 
difficult to be so. I say, cherish those principles, and 
guard them as sacred treasures." 

At length his son and daughter joined him and took 
part in his domestic and out-door enjoyments. They 
accompanied him in his drives and rides, and Matt took 
part in his chemical experiments. One of their great 
delights was the fabrication of an immense paper bal- 
loon, and the making of the hydrogen gas to fill it 
with. After great preparations the balloon was made and 
filled, and sent up in the field behind the house, to the 
delight of all concerned. To Mrs. Watt he wrote 
expressing to her how much pleasanter his residence in 
Cornwall had become since his son and daughter's visit. 
" I shall be happier," he said, " during the remainder of 
my residence here than in the former part of it ; for I 
am ill calculated to live alone in an enemy's country, 
and to contest lawsuits. Besides, the only source of 
happiness I look for in my future life is in my children. 
Matt behaves extremely well, is active and good- 
humoured; and my daughter, too, has, I think, good 
dispositions and sentiments, which I shall cherish, and 
prevent as much as possible from being sullied by 
narrow and illiberal-minded companions." After a few 
months' pleasant social intercourse with his family at 
Cosgarne, varied by occasional bickerings with the 
adventurers out of doors about dues, Boulton returned 
to Birmingham, to enter upon new duties and undertake 
new enterprises. 




WHEN Boulton returned to Birmingham, lie was urgently 
called upon to take part in a movement altogether foreign 
to his habits. He had heretofore been too much engrossed 
by business to admit of his taking any active part in 
political affairs. Being, however, of an active tempera- 
ment, and mixing with men of all classes, he could not 
but feel an interest in the public movements of his time. 
Early in 1784, we find him taking the lead in getting 
up a loyal address to the King on the resignation of the 
Portland Administration and the appointment of Mr. 
Pitt as Prime Minister. It appears, however, that Pitt 
disappointed his expectations. One of his first projects 
was a scheme of taxation, which he introduced for the 
purpose of remedying the disordered state of the finances, 
but which, in Boulton's opinion, would, if carried, have 
the effect of seriously damaging the national industry. 
The Minister proposed to tax coal, iron, copper, and 
other raw materials of manufacture, to the amount of 
about a million a year. Boulton immediately bestirred 
himself to oppose the adoption of the scheme. He held 
that for a manufacturing nation to tax the raw mate- 
rials of wealth was a suicidal measure, calculated, if 
persevered in, to involve the producers of wealth in 
ruin. " Let taxes," he said, "be laid upon luxuries, upon 
vices, and if you like upon property ; tax riches when 
got, and the expenditure of them, but not the means of 


getting them ; of all things, don't cut open the hen that 
lays the golden eggs." l 

Petitions and memorials were forthwith got up in the 
midland counties, and presented against the measure ; 
and Boulton being recognised as the leader of the 
movement in his district, was summoned by Mr. Pitt to 
London to an interview with him on the subject. He 
then took the opportunity of pressing upon the Minister 
the necessity of taking measures to secure reciprocity of 
trade with foreign nations, as being of vital importance 
to the trade of England. Writing to his partner 
Scale, he said, " Surely our Ministers must be bad poli- 
ticians, to suffer the gates of nearly every commercial 
city in the world to be shut against us." " There is no 
doubt," he wrote to his friend Garbett, " but the edicts, 
prohibitions, and high duties laid upon our manufac- 
turers by foreign powers will be severely felt, unless 
some new commercial treaties are entered into with 
such powers. I fear our young Minister is not suffi- 
ciently aware of the importance of the subject, and I 
likewise fear he will pledge himself before Parliament 
meets to carry other measures in the next session that 
will be as odious to the country as his late attempts.'* 

As Boulton had anticipated, the Ministry introduced 
several important measures, calculated to have a highly 
injurious effect upon English industry, and he imme- 
diately bestirred himself, in conjunction with Josiah 
Wedgwood, of Etruria, to organise a movement in 
opposition to them. Wedgwood and Boulton met at 
Birmingham in February, 1785, and arranged to 
assemble a meeting of delegates from the manufac- 
turing districts, who were to meet and sit in London 
" all the time the Irish commercial affairs were pending." 
A printed statement of the objects of the movement 

1 Boulton to Wilson, 16th December, 1784. Boulton MSS. 



was circulated, and Boulton and Wedgwood wrote to 
their friends in all quarters to meet and appoint dele- 
gates to the central committee in London. Boulton was 
unanimously appointed the delegate for Birmingham, 
and he proceeded to London furnished with a bundle of 
petitions from his neighbourhood. The delegates pro- 
ceeded to form themselves into a Chamber of Manu- 
facturers, over the deliberations of which Wedgwood, 
Boulton, or John Wilkinson usually presided. 

The principal object of these meetings and petitionings 
was to prevent, if possible, the imposition of the pro- 
posed taxes on coal, iron, and raw materials generally, 
as well as the proposed export duties on manu- 
factured articles. At a time when foreign govern- 
ments were seeking to exclude English manufactures 
from their dominions by heavy import duties, it was felt 
that this double burden was more than English industry 
could bear. The Irish Parliament were at the same time 
legislating in a hostile spirit towards English commerce ; 
imposing taxes upon all manufactures imported into 
Ireland from England, while Irish manufactures were 
not only sent into England duty free, but their own 
parliament encouraged them by a bounty on exportation. 
The committee strongly expostulated against the partial 
and unjust spirit of this legislation, and petitioned for 
free interchange on equal terms. So long as such a 
state of things continued, the petitioners urged that 
" every idea of reciprocity in the interchange of manu- 
factures between Britain and Ireland was a mere 
mockery of words." 

Although Watt was naturally averse to taking any 
public part in politics, his services were enlisted in the 
cause, and he drew up for circulation "An answer to the 
Treasury Paper on the Iron Trade of England and 
Ireland." The object of his statement was to show that 
the true way of encouraging manufactures in Ireland 
was, not by bounties, not by prohibitions, but by entire 


freedom of industry. It was asserted by the supporters 
of the propositions, that the natives of Ireland were 
ignorant, indolent, and poor. " If they be so," said Watt, 
"the best method of giving them vigour is to have 
recourse to British manufacturers, possessed of capital, 
industry, and knowledge of trade." The old covenanting 
spirit of his race fairly breaks out in the following 
passage : 

"It is contemptible nonsense to argue that because Ireland has 
never had iron manufactories she cannot soon have them. . . . One 
hundred years ago the Irish had no linen manufacture ; they 
imported linen ; and now they sell to us to the amount of a million 
annually. How came this about ? The civil wars under Charles L, 
and the tyranny of the Scotch Privy Council under Charles II., 
chased the people out of Scotland, because they were Presbyterians. 
Ireland received and protected them; they peopled the northern 
provinces; many of them were weavers; they followed their 
business in Ireland, and taught others. Philip II. chased the 
inhabitants out of Flanders, on account of religion ; Queen Elizabeth 
received and protected them ; and England learnt to manufacture 
woollen cloth. The persecutions of Lewis XIV. occasioned the 
establishment of a colony in Spitalfields. And the Parliament 

of Britain, under the auspices of and , and others, imposed 

oppressive duties on glass ; and 's Act gave the Irish liberty to 

export it to our Colonies ; the glass-makers fled from the tyranny 
of the Excise ; Ireland has now nine glass-houses. Britain has lost 
the export trade of that article ! More examples of the migrations 
of manufactures could be adduced, but it seems unnecessary ; for it 
cannot be denied that men will fly from tyranny to liberty, whether 
Philip's Priests, Charles's Dragoons, or our Excisemen be the 
instruments of the tyranny. And it must also be allowed that 
even the Inquisition itself is not more formidable than our Excise 
Laws (as far as property is concerned) to those who unhappily are 
subjected to them." 

Towards the end of the statement he asks, " Would it 
not be more manly and proper at once to invite the Irish 
to come into a perfect union with Britain, and to pay 
the same duties and excises that we do? Then every 
distinction of country might with justice be done away 
with, and they would have a fair claim to all the 
advantages which we enjoy." 


The result of the agitation was that most of the pro- 
posals to impose new taxes on the raw materials of 
manufacture were withdrawn by the Ministry, and the 
Irish resolutions were considerably modified. But the 
relations of British and Irish industry were by no means 
settled. The Irish Parliament might refuse to affirm 
the resolutions adopted by the British Parliament, in 
which case it might be necessary again to oppose the 
Ministerial measures ; and to provide for this con- 
tingency, the delegates separated, with the resolution to 
maintain and extend their organisation in the manu- 
facturing districts. Watt did not, however, like the 
idea of his partner becoming engrossed in political 
agitation, even in matters relating to commerce. He 
accordingly wrote to Boulton in London, " I find myself 
quite unequal to the various business now lying behind, 
and wish much you were at home, and that you would 
direct your attention solely to your own and to Boulton 
and Watt's business until affairs can be brought into 
reasonable compass." 1 Later he wrote, "At Manchester 
they are busy making a collection for the Chamber of 
Manufacturers, which I fancy will be in vogue again 
next winter. But I hope that neither you nor I will be 
mad enough to be demagogues then. Let us leave that 
to those who can defy Ministers, and get our property 
secured, which may be done in the confusion." 

Watt was at this time distressed by an adverse decision 
against the firm in one of the Scotch courts. " I have 
generally observed," he wrote, "that there is a tide in 
our affairs. We have had peace for some time, but now 
cross accidents have begun, and more are to be feared." 
His anxieties were increased by the rumour which 
reached his ears from several quarters of a grand com- 
bination of opulent manufacturers to make use of every 
beneficial patent that had been taken out, and cut them 

Watt to Boulton, 3 1st March, 1785. 



down by scire facias, as they had already cut down 
Arkwright's. It was said that subscriptions had 
been obtained by the association amounting to 50,000/. 
Watt was requested to join a counter combination of 
patentees to resist the threatened proceedings. To this, 
however, he objected, 011 the ground that the associa- 
tion of men to support one another in lawsuits was 
illegal, and would preclude the members from giving 
evidence in support of each other's rights. " Besides," 
said he, " the greater number of patentees are such as 
we could not associate with, and if we did it would do 
us more harm than good." ] 

Towards the end of 1785 the engines which had been 
in hand were nearly finished, and work was getting 
slacker than usual at Soho. Though new orders gave 
Watt trouble, and occasioned him anxiety, still he would 

1 Watt to Boulton, 21st July, 
1785. Writing to Boulton on a later 
occasion on the subject of these 
threatened attacks on all patents, he 
said, " A pursuance of such decisions 
as have been given lately in several 
cases must at length drive men of 
invention to take shelter in countries 
where their ingenuity will be pro- 
tected ; and the other states of Europe 
know their interest too well to neglect 
any opportunity of curbing the inso- 
lence and humbling the pride of 
Britain. If the minister should not 
think it right to amend and confirm 
the patent laws, the next best thing 
would be to make a law totally taking 
away the king's power of granting 
them. 1 mean, this would be the 
honest part." Watt to Boulton, 19th 
March, 1786. Boulton himself had 
equally strong views on the subject of 
patents, believing that they tended to 
encourage industrious and ingenious 
men to labour for the common good. 
Referring to the decision against Ar- 
gand's lamp patent, he wrote De Luc 
in 1787, " It was hard, unjust, and 
impolitic, as it hath (to my knowledge) 
discouraged a very ingenious French 
chemist from coniiim' over and estab- 

lishing in this country an invention 
of the highest importance to one of our 
greatest manufactures. Moreover, it 
tends to destroy the greatest of all 
stimulants to invention, viz. the idea 
of enjoying the fruits of one's own 
labour. Some late decisions against 
the validity of certain patents have 
raised the spirits of the illiberal, sordid, 
unjust, ungenerous, and inventionless 
misers, who prey upon the vitals of 
the ingenious, and make haste to seize 
upon what their laborious and often 
costly application has produced. The 
decisions to which I refer have en- 
couraged a combination in Cornwall to 
erect engines on Boulton and Watt's 
principles, contrary to the Law of 
Patents and the express provisions of 
an Act of Parliament ; and this they 
are setting about in order to drive us 
into a court of law, flattering them- 
selves that it is the present disposition 
of the judges to set their faces against 
all patents. Should such a disposition 
(so contrary to Lord Mansfield's deci- 
sions) continue to prevail, it will pro- 
duce far greater evils to the manufac- 
turing industry of the kingdom than 
the gentlemen of the law can have any 
idea of." 


rather not be without them. " It will be well," he 
wrote to his partner, " if we can get some orders now 
for engines worth while. What we have been doing 
lately has been very trifling, and if we don't get orders 
soon, our men will be idle. As it happens at present, 
we have at least three engineers too few here, there 
being eight engines to be done in two or three months, 
and only three engineers." l It was matter of grati- 
fication to Watt to be able to report that the en- 
gines last delivered had given great satisfaction. The 
mechanics were improving in skill, and their workman- 
ship was becoming of a superior character. "Strood 
and Curtis's engine," said he, " has been at work some 
time, and does very well. Whi thread's has also been 
tried, and performs exceedingly well." The success of 
Whitbread's engine was such that it had the honour 
of a visit from the King, who was greatly pleaded with 
its performances. Not to be outdone, " Felix Calvert," 
wrote Watt, " has bespoken one, which is to outdo 
Whitbread's in magnificence." 

The slackness of work at Soho was not of long con- 
tinuance. Orders for rotative engines came in gradually ; 
one from Harris, of Nottingham ; another from Mac- 
clesfield, to drive a silk-mill ; a third from Edinburgh, 
for the purposes of a distillery ; and others from different 
quarters. The influx of orders had the effect at the 
same time of filling Soho with work, and plunging 
Watt into his usual labyrinth of perplexity and distress. 
In September we find him writing to Boulton. 

" My health is so bad that I do not think I can hold out much 
longer, at least as a man of business, and I wish to consolidate 
something before I give over." . . . Again, " I cannot help being 
dispirited, because I find my head fail me much, business an 
excessive burden to me, and little prospect of my speedy release 
from it. Were we both young and healthy, I should see no reason 
to despair, but very much the contrary. However, we must do the 

Watt to Boulton, 27th August, 1785. 


best we can, and hope for quiet in heaven when our weary bones 
are laid to rest." * 

A few months later, so many more orders had come 
in, that Watt described Soho as " fast for the next four 
months," but the additional work only had the effect of 
increasing his headaches. " In the anguish of my mind," 
he wrote, " amid the vexations occasioned by new and 
unsuccessful schemes, like Lovelace I ' curse my inven- 
tions,' and almost wish, if we could gather our money 
together, that somebody else should succeed in getting 
our trade from us. However, all may yet be well. 
Nature can be conquered if we can but find out her 
weak side." 

We return to the affairs of the Cornish copper-miners, 
which were now in a very disheartening condition. 
The mines were badly and wastefully worked ; and the 
competition of many small companies of poor adven- 
turers kept the copper trade in a state of permanent 
depression. In this crisis of their affairs it was deter- 
mined that a Copper Company should be formed, backed 
by ample capital, with the view of regulating this im- 
portant branch of industry, and rescuing the mines and 
miners from ruin. Boulton took an active part in its 
formation, and induced many of his intimate friends in 
the north to subscribe largely for shares. An arrange- 
ment was entered into by the Company with the adven- 
turers in the principal mines, to buy of them the whole 
of the ore raised, at remunerative prices, for a period of 
eleven years. At the first meeting, held in September, 
1785, for the election of Governor, Deputy-Governor, 
and Directors, Boulton held in his hands the power of 
determining the appointments, representing, as he did 
by proxy, shares held by his northern friends to the 
amount of 86,000. The meeting took place in the 
Town-hall at Truro, and the proceedings passed off 

1 Watt to Boulton, 24th September, 1785. 


satisfactorily ; Boulton using his power with due dis- 
cretion. " We met again on Friday," he wrote to 
Matthews, "and chose the assay ers and other sub- 
ordinate officers, after which we paid our subscriptions, 
and dined together, all in good humour ; and thus this 
important revolution in the copper trade was finally 
settled for eleven years." 

Matters were not yet, however, finally settled, as 
many arrangements had to be made for setting the 
Company to work, in which Boulton took the leading 
part; the Governor and Directors pressing him not to 
leave Cornwall until they were definitely settled. It 
happened to suit his convenience to remain until the 
Wheal Fortune engine was finished one of the most 
formidable engines the firm had yet erected in Corn- 
wall. In the mean time he entered into correspondence 
with various consumers of copper at home and abroad, 
with the object of finding a vend for the metal. He 
succeeded in obtaining a contract through Mr. Hope, of 
Amsterdam, for supplying the copper required for the 
new Dutch coinage ; and he opened out new markets for 
the produce in other quarters. Being a large holder of 
mining shares, Boulton also tried to introduce new and 
economical methods of working the mines ; but with 
comparatively little result. To Wilkinson he wrote, 
" Poldice is in a desponding way, and must give up 
unless better managed. North Downs is managed as 
badly by incapable, ignorant, drunken captains, who 
hold their posts not by merit, but by their cousinship to 

some of the adventurers I should spend a great 

part of next year in Cornwall, and make myself master 
of the minutiae. I think I could then accomplish many 
necessary regulations." 

Though actively bestirring himself for the good of 
the mining interest, Boulton had but small thanks for 

1 Boulton to Wilkinson, 21st November, 1785. 


his pains. The prominence of his position had this 
disadvantage, that if the price of the ore went down, 
or profits declined, or the yield fell off, or the mines 
were closed, or anything went wrong, the miners were 
but too ready to identify him in some way with the evil ; 
and the services which he had rendered to the mining 
interest * were in a moment forgotten. On one occasion 
the discontent of the miners broke out into open revolt, 
and Boulton was even threatened with personal violence. 
The United Mines having proved unprofitable in the 
working, notice was given by the manager of an in- 
tended reduction of wages, this being the only condition 
on which the mines could be carried on. If this could 
not be arranged, the works must be closed, as the 
adventurers declined to go on at a loss. On the an- 
nouncement of the intended lowering of wages being 
made, there was great excitement and discontent among 
the workpeople. Several hundreds of them hastily 
assembled at Eedruth, and took the road for Truro, to 
pull down the offices of the Copper Mining Company, 
and burn the house of the manager. They were especially 
furious with Boulton, vowing vengeance on him, and 
declaring that they would pull down every pumping- 
engine he had set up in Cornwall. When the rioters 
reached Truro, they found a body of men, hastily armed 
with muskets taken from the arsenal, stationed in front 
of the Copper Mining Company's premises, supported 
by six pieces of cannon. At sight of this formidable de- 
monstration the miners drew back, and, muttering threats 
that they would repeat their visit, returned to Eedruth 


1 Writing to M. De Luc, the Queen's 
Librarian, of what he and his partner 
had done for Cornwall, Boulton said, 
" The copper and tin mines of 
Cornwall are now sunk to so great a 
depth that had not Mr. Watt and 
myself nearly expended our fortunes 
and hazarded our ruin by neglecting 
our regular business, and by a long 
series of expensive experiments in 

bringing our engine to its present 
degree of perfection, those mines must 
inevitably have stopped working, and 
Cornwall at this time would not have 
existed as a mining county. The very 
article of extra coals lor common 
engines would have amounted to more 
than the entire profits of their work- 
ing." Boulton to De Luc, 31st March, 


as they had come. Two companies of soldiers and two 
of local militia were brought into the town immediately 
after ; and the intended assault was not made. When 
Watt was informed of the violence with which his 
partner had been threatened, he wrote, " In my opinion 
nothing can be more ungrateful than the behaviour of 
those people who endeavour to make you the object 
of the resentment of the mob, at a time when (setting 
aside former services) you are doing all that lies in your 

power to serve them If you still find the same 

spirit continue, for God's sake leave them immediately. 
The law can reach the adventurers, if it cannot the 

This was, however, but the wild and unreasoning 
clamour of misguided and ignorant men. Boulton was 
personally much esteemed by all who were able to 
appreciate his character, and to understand the position 
of himself and his partner with reference to the engine 
patent. The larger mining owners invited him to 
their houses, and regarded him as their friend. The 
more intelligent of the managers were his strenuous 
supporters. First and foremost among these was Mr. 
Phillips, manager of the Chace water mines, of whom he 
always spoke with the highest respect, as a man of the 
most scrupulous integrity and honour. Mr. Phillips 
was a member of the Society of Friends, and his wife 
Catherine was one of the most celebrated preachers of 
the body. Boulton and Watt occasionally resided with 
them before the house at Cosgarne was taken, and 
conceived for both the warmest friendship. If Watt was 
attracted by the Cornish Anabaptists, Boulton was equally 
so by the Cornish Quakers. We find him, in one of his 
letters to Mrs. Boulton, describing to her a great meeting 
of Friends at Truro which he had attended, " when," 
he said, " I heard our friend Catherine Phillips preach 
with great energy and good sense for an hour and a 
half, although so weak in .body that she was obliged to 


lie abed for several days before." Boulton afterwards 
dined with the whole body of Friends at the principal 
inn, being the only person present who was not of the 
Society; and he confessed to have spent in their com- 
pany a very pleasant evening. 1 

We return to the progress of the engine business at 
Soho. The most important work in hand about this 
time was the double-acting engine intended for the 
Albion Mill, in South wark. 2 This was the first rota- 
tive with a parallel motion erected in London ; and as 
the more extended use of the engine would in a great 
measure depend upon its success, the firm naturally 
looked forward with very great interest to its perform- 
ances. The Albion Mill scheme was started by Boulton 
as early as 1783. Orders for rotatives were then 
coming in very slowly, and it occurred to him that if he 
had but the opportunity of exhibiting the powers of the 
new engine in its best form, and in connexion with 
the best machinery, the results would be so satisfactory 
and conclusive as to induce manufacturers generally 
to follow the example. On applying to the London 
capitalists, Boulton found them averse to the under- 
taking ; and at length Boulton and Watt became per- 
suaded that if the concern was to be launched at all, they 

1 Two clays after this event, when j garden near Kedruth. Boulton, in 
about to set out for Polgooth, a mes- j writing to Mrs. Boulton, said, " I wish 

senger arrived at Boulton's lodgings, 
bringing him the sad news of Mr. 
Phillips's sudden death. He describes 
the scene at the funeral, at which 
Catherine Phillips, though strongly 
urged by him to stay away, insisted 
on being present. " She was attended 
by a widow lady who had lost a good 
husband last year, and though she had 
not been accustomed to speak in the 
congregation of the righteous, yet on 
this occasion she stood with her hand 
upon her husband's coffin and spoke 

I had time to give you the history and 
character of ray departed friend, as 
you know but little of his excellences. 
I cannot say but that I feel a gloomy 
pleasure in dwelling upon the life and 
death of a good man : it incites to 
piety and elevates the mind above 
terrestrial things. Now, let me ask 
you to hold a silent meeting in your 
heart for half an hour and then return 
to your work." 

2 The Albion Mill engine was set 
to work in 1786. The first rotative 

above an hour, delivering one of the | with a parallel motion in Scotland, 
most pathetic discourses I ever heard." j was erected for Mr. Stein, of Kennet 
A large concourse of people attended j Pans near Alloa, in the following 
the interment, which took place in a year. 

2 A 




must themselves find the principal part of the capital. 
A sufficient number of shareholders was got together to 
make a start, and application was made for a charter of 
incorporation in 1784 ; but it was so strongly opposed by 
the millers and mealmen, on the ground that the applica- 
tion of steam-power to flour-grinding would throw wind 
and water mills out of work, take away employment 
from the labouring classes, and reduce the price of 
bread, 1 that the charter was refused ; and the Albion 
Mill Company was accordingly constituted on the ordi- 
nary principles of partnership. 

By the end of the year the Albion Mill engines, care- 
fully designed by Watt, were put in hand at Soho ; the 
building was in course of erection, after the designs of 
Mr. Wyatt, the architect ; while John Rennie, the 
young Scotch engineer, was engaged to design and fit 
up the flour-grinding and dressing machinery. " I am 
glad," wrote Boulton to Watt, " you have agreed with 
Rennie. Mills are a great field. Think of the crank 
of Wolf, Trumpeter, Wasp, and all the ghosts we 
are haunted by." The whole of the following year 
was occupied in the erection of the buildings and ma- 
chinery ; and it was not until the spring of 1786 that 
the mill was ready to start. Being the first enter- 
prise of the kind, on an unprecedented scale, and com- 
prising many novel combinations of machinery, there 
were many " hitches " before it could be got to work 
satisfactorily. After the first trial, at which Boulton 
was present, he wrote his partner expressing his dis- 
satisfaction with the working of the double-acting 

1 In a letter to Mr. Matthews (30th 
April, 1784) Boulton wrote, " It 
seems the millers are determined to 
be masters of ns and the public. 
Putting a stop to' fire-engine mills 
because they come into competition 
with water-mills, is as absurd as 
stopping navigable canals would be 
because they interfere with farmers 
and waggoners. The argument also 

applies to wind and tide mills or any 
other means whereby corn can be 
ground. So all machines should be 
stopped whereby men's labour is 
saved, because it might be argued 
that men were thereby deprived of a 
livelihood. Carry out the argument, 
and we must annihilate water-mills 
themselves, and thus go back again to 
the grinding of corn by hand labour ! " 




engine, expressing the opinion that it would have been 
better if they had held by the single-acting one. 1 Watt 

1 Watt, however, continued to 
adhere to his own views as to the 
superiority of the plan adopted : " I , 
am sorry to find," he observed in his 
reply to Boulton, " so many things are | 
amiss at Albion Mill, and that you j 
have lost your good opinion of double j 
engines, while my opinion of them is j 
mended. The smoothness of their ! 
going depends on the steam regulators j 
being opened a little before the vacuum ' 

regulators, and not opened too sud- 
denly, as indeed the others ought not 
to be. Otherwise the shock comes so 
violently in the opposite direction that 
no pins or brasses will stand it. 
Malcolm has no notion how to make 
gear work quietly, nor do I think he 
properly understands it. You must 
therefore attend to it yourself, and not 
leave it until it is more perfect," 
Watt to Boulton, 3rd March, 1786. 

2 A 2 


was urged to run up to town himself and set matters to 
rights ; but he was up to the ears in work at Soho, and 
could not leave for a day. 

" I can by no means leave home at present," he wrote, " otherwise 
we shall suffer much greater losses than can come from the Albion 
Mill. The work for Cornwall which must be planned and put in 
train is immense, and there will more come from that quarter. 
Besides, I am pulled to pieces by demands for forwardness from 
every side. I have lost ten days by William Murdock, Wilson, 
Wilkinson, and headaches, and I have neither health nor spirits to 
make the necessary exertions. If I went to London I should be in 
torment all the while with the thoughts of what was lying behind 

After pointing out what course should be taken to 
discover and remedy the faults of the engine, he pro- 
ceeded : 

" Above all, patience must be exercised and things coolly 
examined and put to rights, and care be taken not to blame 
innocent parts. Everything must, as much as possible, be tried 
separately. Eemind those who begin to growl, that in new, com- 
plicated, and difficult things, human foresight falls short that time 
and money must be given to perfect things and find out their de- 
fects, otherwise they cannot be remedied." l 

Not being able to persuade "Watt to come to his help, 
Boulton sent to Cornwall for Murdock, always ready to 
lend a hand on an emergency, and in the course of a 
few weeks he was in town at work upon the engines. 
The result is best told in Wyatt's letter to Boulton, who 
had by this time returned to Birmingham : 

" Mr. Murdock has just set the engine to work. All the rods are 
altered. I think he has done more good than all the doctors 
we have had before ; and his manner of doing it has been very 
satisfactory so different from what we have been used to. He 
has been through all the flues himself, and really takes uncommon 
pains. Pray write to him ; thank him for his attention. He will 
not have left town before he gets your letter, and press him to stay 
as long as he can be essentially serviceable." 

There was, however, so great a demand for Murdock's 

1 Watt to Boulton, 10th March, 1786. Boulton MSS. 


presence in Cornwall, that he could not be spared for 
another day, and he hurried back again to his multi- 
farious duties at the mines. 

The cost of erecting the mill proved to be consider- 
ably in excess of the original estimate, and Watt early 
feared that it would turn out a losing concern. He had 
no doubt about the engines or the machinery being 
able to do all that had been promised ; but he feared 
that the absence of business capacity on the part of the 
managers would be fatal to its commercial success. 1 He 
was especially annoyed at finding the mill made a 
public show of, and that it was constantly crowded with 
curious and frivolous people, whose presence seriously 
interfered with the operations of the workmen. It 
reached his ears that the managers of the mill even 
intended to hold a masquerade in it, with the professed 
object of starting the concern with eclat ! Watt 
denounced this as sheer humbug. " What have Dukes, 
Lords, and Ladies," said he, " to do with masquerading 
in a flour- mi 11 ? You must take steps to curb the 
vanity of - , else it will ruin him. As for ourselves, 
considering that we are much envied at any rate, 
everything which contributes to render us conspicuous 
ought to be avoided. Let us content ourselves with 
doing!" 2 ' It was also found that the mill was becoming 
a nest for schemers and speculators occupied in devising 

The Albion Mill," wrote Watt 
to Boulton, " requires your close at- 
tention and exertions. I look upon it 

body except Mr. W. and ourselves, 
and that if we go on as expensively 
in carrying on the business as in the 

as a weight about our necks that will i erection, it is impossible but that we 
sink us to the bottom, unless people should be immense losers, and thus 
of real activity and knowledge of probably our least loss will be to 
business are found to manage it. I stop where we are. As to our repu- 
would willingly forfeit a considerable tation as engineers, I have no doubt 
sum to be clear of the concern. If but the mill will perform its business, 
anybody will take my share I will but whether with the quantity of 
cheerfully give him 500?. and reckon coals and labour is what I cannot say." 
myself well quit. My reasons are Watt to Boulton, 19th March, 
that none of the parties concerned . 1786. 

are men of business, that no attention ! 2 Watt to Boulton, 17th April, 
has been hitherto paid to it by any- 1786. 


all manner of new projects. Boulton bestirred himself 
to put matters in a more business-like train. Steps 
were taken to close the mill against the crowd of idle 
visitors ; and Boulton shortly after reported that " the 
manufacturing of Bubbles and new schemes is removed 
from the Mill to a private Lodging." 

When the mill was at length set to work, it per- 
formed to the entire satisfaction of its projectors. The 
engine, on one occasion, ground as much as 3000 
bushels of wheat in twenty-four hours. The usual rate 
of work per week of six days was 16,000 bushels of 
wheat, cleaned, ground, and dressed into fine flour 
(some of it being ground two or three times over) ; or 
sufficient, according to Boulton's estimate, for the weekly 
consumption of 150,000 people. The important uses of 
the double rotative engine were thus exhibited in the 
most striking manner ; and the fame of the Albion Mill 
extended far and wide. It so far answered the main 
purpose which Boulton and Watt had in view in ori- 
ginally embarking in the enterprise ; but it must be 
added that the success was accomplished at a very 
serious sacrifice. The mill never succeeded com- 
mercially. It was too costly in its construction and its 
management, and though it did an immense business it 
was at a loss. The concern was, doubtless, capable of 
great improvement, and, had time been allowed, it 
would probably have come round. When its prospects 
seemed to be brightening, 1 it was set on fire in several 
places by incendiaries on the night of the 3rd of March, 
1791. The villains had made their arrangements with 
deliberation and skill. They fastened the main cock of 
the water- cistern, and chose the hour of low tide for 
firing the building, so that water could not be got to 
play upon the flames, and the mill was burnt to the . 

1 Watt wrote Boulton from London, 
1st October, 1789, "I called on Wyatt 
(the architect) last night. He says 

the mill sold above 4000/. worth of 
flour last week and is doing well." 


ground in a few hours. A reward was offered for 
the apprehension of the criminals, but they were never 
discovered. The loss sustained by the Company was 
about 10,000/. Boulton and Watt were the principal 
sufferers ; the former holding 6000/., and the latter 
3000/. interest in the undertaking. 1 

Meanwhile orders for rotative engines were coming 
in apace at Soho, engines for paper-mills and cotton- 
mills, for flour-mills and iron-mills, and for sugar-mills in 
America and the West Indies. At the same time pump- 
ing-engines were in hand for France, Spain, and Italy. 
The steam-engine was becoming an established power, 
and its advantages were every day more clearly recog- 
nised. It was alike docile, regular, economical, and 
effective, at all times and seasons, by night as by day, 
in summer and in winter. While the wind-mills were 
stopped by calms and the water-mills by frosts, the 
steam-mill worked on with untiring power. " There 
is not a single water-mill now at work in Staffordshire," 
wrote Boulton to Wyatt in December ; " they are all 
frozen up, and were it not for Wilkinson's steam-mill, 
the poor nailers must have perished ; but his mill goes 
on rolling and slitting ten tons of iron a day, which is 
carried away as fast as it can be bundled up ; and thus 
the employment and subsistence of these poor people 
are secured." 

As the demand for rotative engines set in, Watt 
became more hopeful as to the prospects of this branch 
of manufacture. He even began to fear lest the firm 
should be unable to execute the orders, so fast did 
they follow each other. " I have no doubt," he wrote 
to Boulton, " that we shall soon so methodize the rota- 
tive engines as to get on with them at a great pace. 
Indeed, that is already in some degree the case. But 
we must have more men, and these we can only have 

1 For further particulars as to the Albion Mill, see Life of Rcnnie in 
' Lives of the Engineers,' ii. 137. 



CHAP. XV11. 

by the slow process of breeding them." 1 A fortnight 
later he wrote, " Orders for rotative engines are coming 
in daily ; but, if we part with any more men here, we 
must stop taking them in." Want of skilled workmen 
continued to be one of Watt's greatest difficulties. When 
the amount of work to be executed was comparatively 
small, and sufficient time was given to execute it, he 
was able to turn out very satisfactory workmanship ; a 
but when the orders came pouring in, new hands were 
necessarily taken on, who proved a constant source of 
anxiety and trouble. Even the " old hands," when sent 
to a distance to fit up engines, being left, in a great 
measure, to themselves, were apt to become careless and 
ill-conditioned. With some, self-conceit was the stum- 
bling-block, with others temper,* but with the greater 
number, drink. "I am very sorry to hear," wrote 
Watt to Boulton, "that Malcolm Logan's disease in- 
creases. I think you should talk to him roundly upon 
it, and endeavour to procure him to make a solemn 
resolution or oath against drinking for some given 
term." Another foreman sent to erect an engine in 
Craven was afflicted with a distemper of a different 
sort. He was found to have put the engine very badly 
together, and, instead of attending to his work, had 
gone a-hunting in a pig-tail wig ! "If the half of this 
be true," wrote Watt, " as I fear it is, he will not do to 
be sent to New River Head [where an engine was about 
to be erected], and I have at present nobody else here 
.... I suppose I shall be obliged to send Joseph over, 
for we must not have a bad engine if it can be helped. 
.... We seem to be getting into our old troubles 
again." 3 

1 Watt to Boulton, 23rd September, 

2 He spoke of Goodwyn's Brewery 
engine, finished in 1784, as the best 
that Soho had up to that time turned 
out it " performed wonderful well 

not the smallest leak and scarce any 
noise. . . . The working gear and 
joints are the best I ever saw." 

3 Watt to Boulton, 24th February, 


William Murdock continued, as before, an admirable 
exception. He was as indefatigable as ever, always 
ready with an expedient to remedy a defect, and willing 
to work at all hours. A great clamour had been raised 
in Cornwall during his stay in London while setting 
the Albion Mill to rights, as there was no other person 
there capable of supplying his place, and fulfilling his 
numerous and responsible duties. Boulton deplored 
that more men such as Murdock were not to be had ; 
-" He is now flying from mine to mine," he wrote, 
" and hath so many calls upon him that he is inclined 
to grow peevish ; and if we take him from North 
Downs, Chace water, and To wan (all of which engines 
he has the care of), they will run into disorder and 
ruin ; they have not a man at North Downs that is 
better than a stoker." 

Towards the end of 1786 the press of orders increased 
at Soho. A rotative engine of forty-horse power was 
ordered by the Plate Glass Company to grind glass. 
A powerful pumping- engine was in hand for the Oxford 
Canal Company. Two engines, one of twenty and the 
other of ten horse power, were ordered for Scotch dis- 
tilleries, and another order was shortly expected from 
the same quarter. The engine supplied for the Hull 
paper-mill having been found to answer admirably, 
more orders for engines for the same purpose were 
promised. At the same time pumping-engines were 
in hand for the great French waterworks at Marli. 
" In short," said Watt, " I foresee I shall be driven 
almost mad in finding men for the engines ordered here 
and coining in." Watt was necessarily kept very full 
of work by these orders, and we gather from his letters 
that he was equally full of headaches. He continued to 
give his personal attention to the preparation of the 
drawings of the engines, even to the minutest detail. 
On an engine being ordered by Mr. Morris, of Bristol, 
for the purpose of driving a tilt-hammer, Boulton wrote 




to him, "Mr. Watt can never be prevailed upon to 
begin any piece of machinery until the plan of the 
whole is settled, as it often happens that a change in 
one thing puts many others wrong. However, he has 
now settled the whole of yours, but waits answers to 
certain questions before the drawings for the founder 
can be issued." 1 

At an early period his friend Wedgwood had strongly 
urged upon Watt that he should work less with his own 
head and hands, and more through the heads and hands 
of others. 2 Watt's brain was too active for his body, 
and needed rest ; but rest he would not take, and per- 
sisted in executing all the plans of the new engines 
himself. Thus in his fragile, nervous, dyspeptic state, 
every increase of business was to him increase of brain- 
work and increase of pain ; until it seemed as if not only 
his health, but the very foundations of his reason must 
give way. At the very time when Soho was beginning 
to bask in the sunshine of prosperity, and the financial 
troubles of the firm seemed coming to an end. Watt 
wrote the following profoundly melancholy letter to 
a friend : 

" I have been effete and listless, neither daring to face business, 
nor capable of it, my head and memory failing me much ; my stable 
of hobby-horses pulled down, and the horses given to the dogs for 
carrion. ... I have had serious thoughts of laying down the 
burden I find myself unable to carry, and perhaps, if other 
sentiments had not been stronger, should have thought of throwing 
off the mortal coil; but, if matters do not grow worse, I may 

1 Boulton to Morris, 2nd November, 

2 "Your mind, my friend, is too 
active, too powerful for your body, 
and harasses it beyond its bearing. 
If this was the case with any other 
machine under your direction, except 
that in whose regulation your friends 
take so much interest, you would 
soon find out a remedy. For the 
present permit me to advise a more 
ample use of tke oil of delegation 

through your whole machinery, and 1 
am persuaded you will soon find some 
salutary effects from this application. 
Seriously, I shall conclude in saying 
to you what Dr. Fothergill desired 
me to say to Brindley ' Spare your 
machine a little, or like others under 
your direction, it will wear out the 
sooner by hard and constant usage.' " 
Josiah Wedgwood to Watt, December 
LO, 1782. 


perhaps stagger on. Solomon said that in the increase of knowledge 
there is increase of sorrow; if he had substituted business for know- 
ledge, it would have Leen perfectly true." l 

As might be expected, from the large number of 
engines sold by the firm to this time, and the increasing 
amounts yearly payable as dues, their income from the 
business was becoming considerable, and promised, 
before many years had passed, to be very large. Down 
to the year 1785, however, the outlay upon new foun- 
dries, workshops, and machinery had been so great, and 
the large increase of business had so completely 
absorbed the capital of the firm, that Watt continued 
to be paid his household expenses, at the rate of so 
much a year, out of the hardware business, and no divi- 
sion of profits upon the engines sold and at work had 
as yet been made, because none had accrued. After the 
lapse of two more years, matters had completely changed ; 
and after long waiting, and indescribable distress of mind 
and body, Watt's invention at length began to be pro- 
ductive to him. During the early part of his career, 
though his income had been small, his wants were 
few, and easily satisfied. Though Boulton had liberally 
provided for these from the time of his settling at 
Birmingham, Watt continued to feel oppressed by the 
thought of the debt to the bankers for which he and 
his partner were jointly liable. In his own little busi- 
ness he had been accustomed to deal with such small 
sums, that the idea of being responsible for the repay- 
ment of thousands of pounds appalled and unnerved him ; 
and he had no peace of mind until the debt was dis- 
charged. Now at last he was free, and in the happy 
position of having a balance at his bankers. On the 
7th of December, 1787, Boulton wrote to Matthews, 
the London agent, " As Mr. Watt is now at Mr. Mac- 

Watt to his brother-in-law, Gilbert Hamilton, Glasgow, June 18, 1786. 


gregor's, in Glasgow, I wish you would write him a 
line to say that you have transferred 4000/. to his 
own account, that you have paid for him another 
1000^. to the Albion Mill, and that about Christmas 
you suppose you shall transfer 200 7/. more to him, to 

But while Watt's argosies were coming into port 
richly laden, Boulton's were still at sea. Though the 
latter had risked, and often lost, capital in his various 
undertakings, he continued as venturesome, as enter- 
prising as ever. When any project was started calcu- 
lated to bring the steam-engine into notice, he was 
immediately ready with his subscription. Thus he 
embarked 6000/. in the Albion Mill, a luckless adven- 
ture in itself, though productive in other respects. But 
he sadly missed the money, and as late as 1789, feelingly 
said to Matthews, " Oh that I had my Albion Mill 
capital back again ! " When any mining adventure 
was started in Cornwall for which a new engine was 
wanted, Boulton would write, "If you want a stop- 
gap, put me down as an adventurer ;" and too often 
the adventure proved a failure. Then, to encourage 
the Cornish Copper Mining Company, he bought large 
quantities of copper, and had it sent down to Bir- 
mingham, where it lay long on his hands without a 
purchaser. At the same time we find him expending 
5000/. in building and rebuilding two mills and a ware- 
house at Soho, and an equal amount in " preparing for 
the coinage." These large investments had the effect of 
crippling his resources for years to come ; and when the 
commercial convulsion of 1788 occurred, he felt himself 
in a state of the most distressing embarrassment. The 
circumstances of the partners being thus in a measure 
reversed, Boulton fell back upon Watt for temporary 
help ; but, more cautious than his partner, Watt had 
already invested his profits elsewhere, and could riot 




help him. 1 He had got together his store of gains with 
too much difficulty to part with them easily ; and he was 
unwilling to let them float away in what he regarded as 
an unknown sea of speculation. 

To add to his distresses, Boulton's health began to fail 
him. To have seen the two men, no one would have 
thought that Boulton would have been the first to break 
down ; but so it was. Though Watt's sufferings from 
headaches, and afterwards from asthma, seem to have 
been almost continuous, he struggled on, and even grew 
in strength and spirits. His fragile frame bent before 
disease, as the reed bends to the storm, and rose erect 
again ; but it was different with Boulton. He had 
toiled too unsparingly, and was now feeling the effects. 
The strain upon him had throughout been greater than 
upon Watt, whose headache had acted as a sort of safety- 
valve by disabling him from pursuing further study 
until it had gone off. Boulton, on the other hand, was 
kept in a state of constant anxiety by business that 
could not possibly be postponed. He had to provide the 
means for carrying on his many businesses, to sustain 
his partner against despondency, and to keep the whole 
organisation of the firm in working order. While 
engaged in bearing his gigantic burden, disease came 
upon him. In 1784 we find him writing to his wine- 
merchant, with a cheque in payment of his account, 
" We have had a visit from a new acquaintance the 
gout." The visitor returned, and four years later we 
find him complaining of violent pain from gravel and 
stone, to which he continued a martyr to the close of his 
life. " I am very unwell indeed," he wrote to Matthews 

1 " Mr. Watt hath lately remitted 
all his money to Scotland, and I have 
lately purchased a considerable quan- 
tity of copper at the request of Mr. 
Williams. . . . Besides which I have 
more than 45 tons of copper by 
me, 20 of which was bought of the 
Cornish Metal Company, and 20 of the 

Duke's at 707., and not an ounce of 
either yet used. In short, I shall be 
in a very few weeks in great want of 
money, and it is now impossible to 
borrow in London or this neighbour- 
hood as all confidence is fled." Boulton 
to Wilson, 4th May, 1788. 




in London ; " I can get no sleep ; and yet I have been 
obliged to wear a cheerful face, and attend all this week 
on M. 1'Abbe de Callone and his friend Brunelle." 1 He 
felt as if life was drawing to an end with him : he asked 
his friend for a continuance of his sympathy, and pro- 
mised to exert himself, " otherwise," said he, " I will lay 
me down and die." He was distressed, above all things, 
at the prospect of leaving his family unprovided for, 
notwithstanding all the labours, anxieties, and risks 
he had undergone. " When I reflect," he said, " that I 
have given up my extra advantage of one-third on all 
the engines we are now making and are likely to make, 2 
when I think of my children, now upon the verge of 
that time of life when they are naturally entitled to 
expect a portion of their patrimony, when I feel the 
consciousness of being unable to restore to them the pro- 
perty which their mother intrusted to me, when I see 
all whom I am connected with growing rich, whilst I 
am groaning under a load of debt and annuities that 
would sink me into the grave if my anxieties for my 
children did not sustain me, I say, when I consider all 
these things, it behoves me to struggle through the small 
remaining fragment of my life (being now in my 60th 
year), and do my children all the justice in my power by 
wiping away as many of my incumbrances as possible." 

It was seldom that Boulton wrote in so desponding a 
strain as this ; but it was his " darkest hour," and 
happily it proved the one "nearest the dawn." Yet, 
we shortly after find him applying his energies, appa- 
rently unabated, in an entirely new direction that of 
coining money which, next to the introduction of the 
steam-engine, was the greatest enterprise of his life. 

1 Boulton to Matthews, 22nd De- 
cember, 1788. 

2 Boulton acted with his usual open- 
handed generosity in his partnership 
arrangements with Watt. Although 
the original bargain between them 
provided that Boulton was to take 

two-thirds, and Watt one-third profits, 
Boulton providing the requisite capital 
and being at the risk and expense of 
all experiments, he subsequently, at 
Watt's request, agreed to the profits 
being equally divided between them. 




As men are known by the friends they make and the 
books they read, as well as by the recreations and pur- 
suits of their leisure hours, it will help us to an appre- 
ciation of the characters of Boulton and Watt if we 
glance briefly at the social life of Soho during the 
period we have thus rapidly passed under review. 

Boulton was of a thoroughly social disposition, and 
made friends wherever he went. He was a favourite 
alike with children and philosophers, with princely 
visitors at Soho, and with quiet Quakers in Cornwall. 
When at home, he took pleasure in gathering about 
him persons of kindred tastes and pursuits, in order at 
the same time to enjoy their friendship, and to cultivate 
his nature by intercourse with minds of the highest cul- 
ture. Hence the friendships which he early formed for 
Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Small, Dr. Darwin, Josiah 
Wedgwood, Thomas Day, Lovell Edge worth, and others 
equally eminent ; out of which eventually grew the 
famous Lunar Society. 

Towards the close of last century, there were many 
little clubs or coteries of scientific and literary men 
established in the provinces, the like of which do not 
now exist, probably because the communication with 
the metropolis is so much easier, and because London 
more than ever absorbs the active intelligence of Eng- 
land, especially in the higher departments of science, 
art, and literature. The provincial coteries of which 
we speak, were usually centres of the best and most 
intelligent society of their neighbourhoods, and were 


for the most part distinguished by an active and liberal 
spirit of inquiry. Leading minds attracted others of 
like tastes and pursuits, and social circles were formed 
which proved in many instances the source of great 
intellectual activity as well as enjoyment. At Liver- 
pool, Roscoe and Currie were the centres of one such 
group ; at Warrington, Aikin, Enfield, and Priestley, of 
another ; at Bristol, Dr. Beddoes and Humphry Davy 
of a third ; and at Norwich, the Taylors and Martineaus 
of a fourth. But perhaps the most distinguished of 
these provincial societies was that at Birmingham, of 
which Boulton and Watt were among the most pro- 
minent members. 

From an early period, the idea of a society, meeting 
by turns at each other's houses, seems to have been 
entertained by Boulton. It was probably suggested in 
the first place by his friend Dr. Small. The object of 
the proposed Society was to be at the same time friendly 
and scientific. The members were to exchange views 
with each other on topics relating to literature, art, and 
science ; each contributing his quota of entertainment 
and instruction. The meetings were appointed to be 
held monthly at the full of the moon, to enable distant 
members to drive home by moonlight ; and this was 
the more necessary as some of them such as Darwin 
and Wedgwood lived at a considerable distance from 

When Watt visited Soho in 1768, on his way home 
from London to Glasgow, some of the members of the 
Society Dr. Small, Dr. Darwin, and Mr. Keir were 
invited to meet him at FMtel de Tamitie sur Handsworth 
Heath, as Boulton styled his hospitable mansion. The 
Society must, however, have been in a somewhat unde- 
fined state at even a considerably later period, as we 
find Boulton writing to Watt in 1770, after the latter 
had settled in Birmingham, " Pray remember that the 
celebration of the third full moon will be on Saturday, 


March 3rd. Darwin and Keir will both be at Soho. 
I then propose to submit many motions to the members 
respecting new laws and regulations, such as will tend 
to prevent the decline of a Society which I hope will 
be lasting." The principal members, besides those 
above named, were Thomas Day, R. Lovell Edgeworth, 
Samuel Gralton, Dr. "Withering, Baskerville the printer, 
Dr. Priestley, and James Watt. Each member was at 
liberty to bring a friend with him, and thus many 
visitors of distinction were present at the meetings of 
the Society, amongst whom may be named Mr. Smeaton, 
Dr. Parr, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir William Herschel, 
Dr. Solander, De Luc, Dr. Camper, and occasional 
scientific foreigners. 

Dr. Darwin was regarded as the patriarch of the 
Society. His fame as a doctor, philosopher, and poet, 
was great throughout the Midland Counties. He was 
extremely speculative in all directions, even in such mat- 
ters as driving wheel-carriages by steam, also a favourite 
subject of speculation with Mr. Edgeworth. 1 Dr. Dar- 
win's time, however, was so much engrossed by his 
practice at Lichfield, that he was not very regular in 
his attendance at the meetings, but would excuse him- 
self for his absence by such a letter as the following : 

" DEAR BOULTON, I am sorry the infernal divinities who 
visit mankind with diseases, and are therefore at perpetual 
war with Doctors, should have prevented my seeing all your great 
men at Soho to-day. Lord! what inventions, what wit, what 
rhetoric, metaphysical, mechanical, and pyrotechnical, will be on 
the wing, bandied like a shuttlecock from one to another of your 
troop of philosophers ! while poor I, I by myself I, imprison'd in a 
postchaise, am joggled, and jostled, and bump'd, and bruised along 
the King's high-road, to make war upon a stomach-ache or a 
fever!" 2 

1 As early as August, 1768, we 
find Dr. Small in one of his letters 
describing Edgeworth to Watt as " a 
gentleman of fortune, young, mechani- 
cal, and indefatigable, who has taken 
a resolution to move land and water 

by steam, and has made 

considerable progress in the short 
space of time that he has devoted to 
the study." 

2 Dr. Darwin to Boulton, April 5, 
1778. When the Doctor removed to 

2 B 




While Dr. Darwin and Mr. Edgeworth were amongst 
the oldest members of the Society, Dr. Priestley, the 
discoverer of oxygen and other gases, was one of 
the most recent. We find Boulton corresponding 
with him in 1775, 1 principally on chemical subjects, 
and supplying him with parcels of fluor spar for pur- 
poses of experiment. Five years later, in 1780, he was 
appointed minister of the Presbyterian Congregation 
assembling in the New Meeting-house, Birmingham ; 
and from that time forward he was one of the most 
active members of the Lunar Society, by whom he was 
regarded as a great acquisition. 

Dr. Priestley was a man of extraordinary gifts and 
accomplishments. He had mastered many languages 
before he was twenty years old. He was well versed 
in mechanical philosophy and metaphysics, a skilled 
dialectician, and the most expert chemist of his time. 
Possessed by an irrepressible activity and untiring per- 
severance, he became an enthusiast on whatever subject 
he undertook, whether it was an inquiry into history, 

Derby in 1782, he wrote, " [ am 
here cut off from the milk of science, 
which flows in such redundant streams 
from your learned Lunatics, and which, 
I can assure you, is a very great regret 
to me." In another letter he said, 
" I hope philosophy and fire-engines 
continue to go on well. You heard 
we sent your Society an air-balloon, 
which was calculated to have fallen in 
your garden at Soho ; but the wicked 
wind carried it to Sir Edward Little- 
ton's. Pray give my compliments to 
your learned Society." In another 
letter he wrote, " I hope Behemoth 
has strength in his loins. Belial and 
Ashtaroth are two other devils of conse- 
quence, and good names for engines of 
Fire." When he heard of the Albion 
Mill being burnt down, the Doctor 
wrote, "The conflagration of the 
Albion Mill grieved me sincerely, both 
as it was a grand and success fu] effort 
of human art, and also because I fear 
you were a considerable sufferer by it. 

I well remember poor old Mr. Seward 
comparing the Immortality of the 
Soul (in a devout sermon) to a fire- 
engine. He might now have made it 
| a type of the mortality of this world, 
and the conflagration of all things." 

1 In a letter from Priestley to 
Boulton, dated London, 6th November, 
1775, he wrote, "I shall not quarrel 
with you on account of our different 
sentiments in politics. When I tell 
you what is fact, that the Americans 
have constructed a cannon on a new 
principle, by which they can hit a 
mark at a distance of a mile, you will 
say their ingenuity has come in aid of 
their cowardice! I would tell you 
the principle of it, but that I am 
afraid it would set your superior 
ingenuity to improve upon it for the 
use of their enemies." From Boulton's 
memoranda-books we find that the 
subject of improved artillery had 
occupied his attention some ten years 




theology, or science. He himself likened experimental 
philosophy to hunting, and in his case it was the pursuit 
of facts that mainly concerned him. He was cheerful, 


hopeful, and buoyant ; possessed of a most juvenile tem- 
perament ; happiest when fullest of work ; ranging from 
subject to subject with extraordinary versatility ; laying 
aside metaphysics to pursue experiments in electricity, 
next taking up history and politics, and resting from 
these to experiment on gases, all the while carrying on 
some public controversy on a disputed point in religion 
or politics. For it is a curious fact; that gentle, affec- 
tionate, and amiable though Priestley was, devout 
in temperament, and single-minded in the pursuit of 

2 B 2 




truth, 1 he was almost constantly involved in paper 
wars. He described himself, and truly, as "one of the 
happiest of men ; " yet wherever he went, in England or 
America, he stirred up controversy and exasperated 
opponents, seeming to be the very Ishmael of polemics. 

At the time when he settled at Birmingham, 
Priestley was actively engaged in prosecuting inquiries 
into the constitution of bodies. He had been occupied 
for several years before in making investigations as 
to the gases. The discovery of carbonic acid gas 
by Dr. Black of Edinburgh, had attracted his atten- 
tion ; and, living conveniently near to a brewery at 
Leeds, where he then was, he proceeded to make expe- 
riments on the fixed air or carbonic acid gas evolved 
during fermentation. From these he went on to other 
experiments, making use of the rudest apparatus, 
phials, tobacco-pipes, kitchen utensils, a few glass tubes, 
and an old gun-barrel. The pursuit was a source of 
constant pleasure to him. He had entered upon an 
almost unexplored field of science. Then was the child- 
hood of chemistry, and he gazed with large-eyed wonder 
at the marvels which his investigations brought to light. 
He had no teacher to guide him nothing but experi- 
ment ; and he experimented constantly, carefully noting 
the results. Observation of facts was his great object ; 
the interpretation of the facts he left to others. Such 
was Priestley, and such were his pursuits, when he 
settled at Birmingham in 1780. 

1 Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, who had 
no sympathy for Dr. Priestley's re- 
ligious views, nevertheless bears 
eloquent testimony to the beauty of 
his character-. She speaks of him as 
" a man of admirable simplicity, 
gentleness, and kindness of heart, 
united with great acuteness of in- 
tellect. I can never forget," she says, 
" the impression produced on me by 
the serene expression of his counte- 
nance. He, indeed, seemed ever 
present with God by recollection, and 
with man bv cheerfulness. ... A 

sharp and acute intellectual perception, 
often a pointed, perhaps a playful 
expression, was combined in him with 
a most loving heart. . . Dr. Priestley 
always spent part of every day in 
devotional exercises and contempla- 
tion ; and unless the railroad has 
spoilt it, there yet remains at Dawlish 
a deep and beautiful cavern, since 
known by the name of " Dr. Priestley's 
cavern," where he was wont to pass 
an hour every day in solitary retire- 
ment. ' Life of Mary Ann Schimmel- 




There can be little doubt that his enthusiasm as an 
experimenter in chemistry exercised a powerful influence 
on the minds of both Boulton and Watt, who, though 
both full of work, anxiety, and financial troubles, 
were nevertheless found taking an active interest from 
this time forward in the progress of chemical science. 
Chemistry became the chief subject of discussion at 
the meetings of the Lunar Society, and chemical ex- 
periments the principal recreation of their leisure 

" I dined yesterday at the Lunar Society (Keir's house)," wrote 
Boulton to Watt ; " there was Blair, Priestley, Withering, Galton, 
and an American ' rebel,' Mr. Collins. Nothing new except that 
some of my white Spathos Iron ore was found to contain more air 
than any ore Priestley had ever tried, and, what is singular, it 
contains no common air, but is part fixable and part inflam- 
mable." l 

To Henderson, in Cornwall, Boulton wrote, two 
months later, 

" Chemistry has for some time been my hobby-horse, but I am 
prevented from riding it by cursed business, except now and then 
of a Sunday. However, I have made great progress since I saw you, 
and am almost an adept in metallurgical moist chemistry. I have 
got all that part of Bergmann's last volume translated, and 
have learnt from it many new facts. I have annihilated Wm. 
Murdock's bedchamber, having taken away the floor, and made 
the chicken kitchen into one high room covered over with shelves, 
and these I have filled with chemical apparatus. I have likewise 
set up a Priestleyan water-tub, and likewise a mercurial tub for 
experiments on gases, vapours, &c., and next year I shall annex 
to these a laboratory with furnaces of all sorts, and all other utensils 
for dry chemistry." 2 

The " Priestleyan water-tub " and " mercurial tub," 
here alluded to, were invented by Priestley in the course 
of his investigations, for the purpose of collecting and 
handling gases ; and the pneumatic trough, with glass 

1 Boulton to Watt, 3rd July, 1781. 
Dr. Black denominated carbonic acid 
,u'us " fixed air " because of his having 
tirst discovered it in chalk, marble, 
&f., wherein it was fixed until the 

furnace or other means extracted it 
from its fixture. 

2 Boulton to Henderson, Oth Sep- 
tember, 1781. 


retorts and receivers, shortly became part of the furni- 
ture of every chemical laboratory. 

Josiah Wedgwood was another member of the Lunar 
Society who was infected by Dr. Priestley's enthusiasm 
for chemistry ; and, knowing that the Doctor's income 
from his congregation was small, he and Boulton took 
private counsel together as to the best means of providing 
him with funds so as to place him in a position of com- 
parative ease, and enable him freely to pursue his in- 
vestigations. The correspondence which took place on 
the subject is creditable to all parties concerned ; and 
the more so to Boulton, as he was embarrassed at the 
time by financial difficulties of the most distressing kind, 
as has been already explained in a preceding chapter. 
Wedgwood had undertaken to sound Dr. Priestley, and 
he thus communicated the result to Boulton: 

" The Doctor says lie never did intend or think of making any 
pecuniary advantage from any of his experiments, but gave them to 
the public with their results, just as they happened, and so he should 
continue to do, without ever attempting to make any private 
emolument from them to himself. 

" I mentioned this business to our good friend, Dr. Darwin, 
who agrees with us in sentiment, that it would be a pity that 
Dr. Priestley should have any cares or cramps to interrupt him in 
the fine vein of experiments he is in the midst of, and is willing 
to devote his time to the pursuit of, for the public good. The 
Doctor will subscribe, and has thought of some friends who, he is 
persuaded, will gladly do the same. . . . 

" You will see by the enclosed list that one cannot decently 
exceed ten guineas unless it be under the cover of a friend's name, 
which method I shall take if I think it necessary to write more 
than ten ; but that is the subscription I shall begin with, and for 
three years certain. 

" Dr. Darwin will be very cautious who he mentions this affair 
to, for reasons of delicacy which will have equal weight with us all. 
I mentioned your generous intention to Dr. P., and that we thought 
of 201. each ; but that, you will perceive, cannot be, and the Doctor 
says much less will suffice, as he can go on very well with 100Z. per 

1 Wedgwood to Boulton, Etmria, 10th March, 1781. 


Boulton wrote Wedgwood in reply, requesting that 
the money subscribed should be collected and paid to 
Dr. Priestley in such a way as not to wound his sensi- 
tive feelings. He suggested that in order to avoid this, 
it might be better if, instead of an annual subscription, a 
dozen gentlemen were found willing to give a hundred 
pounds each for the purpose of buying an annuity, or 
investing the amount in stock for the Doctor's benefit. 

" I have never yet spoken to him on the subject," he added ; " I 
wish to avoid it, and so doth my neighbour Galton. Therefore 
I beg you will manage the affair so that we may contribute our 
mites to so laudable a plan, without the Doctor knowing anything of 
the matter, and favour us with a line on the subject at your leisure." l 

In a subsequent part of the same letter he indicated 
the subject of Priestley's experiments at the time : 

" We have long talked," said he, " of Phlogiston without knowing 
what we talked about ; but now that Dr. Priestley hath brought the 
matter to light, we can pour that element out of one vessel into 
another, can take it out of one metal and put it into another, 
can tell how much of it, by accurate measurement, is necessary 
to reduce a calx to a metal, which is easily done, and without 
putting that calx into contact with any visible thing. In short, 
this goddess of levity can be measured and weighed like other matter. 
For the rest, I refer you to the Doctor himself." 

The discussions at the Lunar Society were not, how- 
ever, exclusively chemical, but were varied according to 
the visitors who from time to time honoured the 
members with their presence. Thus, in the autumn of 
1782, the venerable Smeaton, having occasion to be in 
Birmingham upon canal business, was invited to attend 
a meeting of the Society held in Watt's house at Harper's 
Hill. Watt thus described the evening's proceedings in 
a letter to Boulton, then in London : 

"He [Smeaton] grows old, and is rather more talkative than 
he was, but retains in perfection his perspicuity of expression 
and good sense. He came to the Philosophers' Meeting at my 

1 Boulton to Wedgwood, 30th March, 1781. 




house on Monday, and we were receiving an account of his experi- 
ments on rotatives and some new ones he has made, when unluckily 
his facts did not agree with Dr. Moyes the blind philosopher's 
theories, which made Moyes contradict Smeaton, and brought 
on a dispute which lost us the information we hoped for, and 
took away all the pleasure of the meeting, as it lasted two hours 
without coming half an inch nearer to the point." l 

A few days later, we find De Luc paying his first 
visit to Watt at Birmingham, accompanied by Baron 
Keden, who desired to inspect the Soho works. " M. 
De Luc," wrote Watt, " is a modest ingenious man. 
On Wednesday, Wilkinson, Keden, and he sent for me 
to ' The Castle ' after dinner, and kept me to supper. 
On the following day De Luc came to breakfast, and 
spent the whole forenoon, insensing 2 himself with steam 
and steam-engines. He is making a book, and will 
mention us in it. Dr. Priestley came also to dinner, 
and we were all good company till six o'clock, when 
Wilkinson set off for Broseley, and they for London." 

Meanwhile Priestley continued to pursue his investi- 
gations with indefatigable zeal, discovering one gas 
after another, 3 and immediately proclaiming the facts 
which he brought to light, so that other minds might be 
employed on them besides his own. He kept nothing 
secret. Perhaps, indeed, he was too hasty in publishing 
the results of experiments still unfinished, as it occasion- 
ally led him into contradictions which a more cautious 
method of procedure would have enabled him to avoid. 
But he was thoroughly honest, ingenuous, and single- 
minded in all his proceedings, entertaining the convic- 
tion that in the end truth would vindicate itself, and 

1 Watt to Boulton, 26th October, 

2 A common word in the north, 
meaning literally putting sense into one. 

3 He discovered, in the course of 
his inquiries at different periods, no 
fewer than nine new gases, oxygen, 
nitrogen (a discovery also claimed by 

Cavendish and Kutherford), nitric 
oxide, nitrous oxide, sulphurous acid, 
muriatic acid (chlorine), volatile am- 
monia, fluo-silicic acid, and carbonic 
oxide, " a tribute to science," as is 
truly observed by Dr. Henry, " greatly 
exceeding in richness and extent that 
of any contemporary." 




that all that was necessary was to inquire ardently, to 
experiment incessantly, and to publish freely. 

One of the most interesting speculations to which 
Priestley's experiments gave rise was the composition of 
water. The merit of discovering the true theory has 
been variously attributed to Watt, to Cavendish, and 
to Lavoisier ; and perhaps no scientific question has been 
the subject of more protracted controversy. It had 
been known for some years that a certain mixture of 
inflammable and dephlogisticated air (hydrogen and 
oxygen), or common air and hydrogen, could be fired 
by the electric spark. The experiment had been made 
by Volta and Macquer in 1776-7 ; and in the spring 
of 1781 Priestley made what he called a " random ex- 
periment" of the same kind, to entertain some philo- 
sophical friends. He exploded a mixture of common air 
and hydrogen in a glass globe by sending an electric 
spark through it, and when the explosion had taken 
place it was observed that the sides of the glass were 
bedewed with moisture. Mr. Warltire, a lecturer on 
Natural Philosophy at Birmingham, 1 was present at the 
experiment, and afterwards repeated it in a copper flask 
for the purpose of trying " whether heat is heavy or 
not." In the mean time, Mr. Cavendish, who had for 
some years been occupied in the special study of pneu- 
matic chemistry, and satisfactorily solved the question of 
the true composition of atmospheric air, having had his 
attention directed to Mr. Warltire' s experiment, repeated 
it in London, in the summer of 1781, employing a 

1 We find among the Boulton MSS., 
a letter from Priestley, dated Calne, 
28th September, 1776, introducing 
Warltire to Boulton as follows : " As 
I know you will take pleasure in 
everything in which the advancement 
of science is concerned, I take the 
liberty to recommend to you Mr. 
Warltire, who has been some time in 
this part of the country, and who is 
going to read lectures on the subject 

of Air at Birmingham. I think him 
an excellent philosopher, as well as a 
modest and agreeable man. He is 
perfectly acquainted with his subject, 
and has prepared a set of experiments 
which have given the greatest satis- 
faction wherever he has been. He 
has been so obliging as to spend some 
time with me, and has given me much 
assistance in my late experiments, of 
which he can give you some account." 


glass vessel instead of a copper one ; and again the 
deposit of dew was observed on the sides of the glass. 
This phenomenon, which Priestley had disregarded, 
appeared to him to be of considerable importance, and 
" likely to throw great light " upon the subject of the 
disappearance of oxygen during combustion, which he 
had been pursuing experimentally by means of his 
well-known eudiometer. " The liquid which resulted 
from the detonations was very carefully analysed, and 
proved in all the experiments with hydrogen and air, 
and in some of those with hydrogen and oxygen, to be 
pure water ; but in certain of the latter it contained a 
sensible quantity of nitric acid. Till the source of this 
was ascertained, it would have been premature to con- 
clude that hydrogen and oxygen could be turned into 
pure water." l These experiments, however, were not 
published, being still regarded as inconclusive. But 
with the communicativeness which distinguishes the 
true man of science, Cavendish made them known to 
Priestley, and, through his friend Dr. Blagden, to La- 
voisier. It was not until January, 1784, that he com- 
municated the results of his long series of experiments 
on the subject to the Royal Society. 

In the mean time Watt's attention had been directed 
to the same subject by the experiments of Priestley, and 
he was led to the same conclusions as Cavendish, though 
altogether independent of him, and by means of a dif- 
ferent class of experiments. We find him writing to 
Boulton, then at Cosgarne, as follows, in 1782 : 

" You may remember that I have often said that if water could 
be heated red hot, or something more, it would probably be 
converted into some kind of air, because steam would in that case 
have lost all its latent heat, and that it would have been turned 

1 Wilson's ' Life of Cavendish,' p. Muirhead in his * Correspondence of 
60. In this work, the claims of the late James Watt on his Discovery 
Cavendish are strongly advocated. I of the Theory of the Composition of 
The case in favour of Watt is alike Water.' 
strongly and ably stated by Mr. : 


wholly into sensible heat, and probably a total change of the 
nature of the fluid would ensue. Dr. Priestley has proved this by 
experiment. He took lime and chased out all the fixed air, and 
made it exceedingly caustic by long-continued and violent heat. 
He then added to it two ounces of water, and as expeditiously 
as possible subjected it again to a strong heat, and he obtained two 
ounces' weight of air ; and, what is most surprising, a balloon which 
he interposed between the retort and receiver was not sensibly 
moistened, nor at all heated that could be observed. The air 
produced was but very little more than common air, and contained 
scarce any fixed air. So here is a plain account of where the 
atmospheric air comes from. The Doctor does me justice as to 
the theory." I 

The results of this experiment were by no means con- 
clusive. That water was composed, at least in part, of 
air or gas of some kind was obvious ; but what the gas 
was, and whether it existed in combination with other 
gases, was still a matter of conjecture. But Priestley, 
having proceeded to repeat Cavendish's experiment 2 of 
exploding a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen in a glass 
vessel, which was followed by the usual deposit of water, 
communicated the fact to Watt, and this at once put 
him on the track of the true theory. In a letter to 
Dr. Black, he communicated the result of Dr. Priestley's 
experiments, stating that " when quite dry pure in- 
flammable air (hydrogen) and quite dry pure dephlo- 
gisticated air (oxygen) are fired by the electric spark in 
a close vessel, he finds, after the vessel is cold, a 
quantity of water adhering to the vessel equal, or very 

1 Watt to Boulton, 10th December, I toujours trouve de 1'eau dans les vases 
1782. oil il avoit brule un melange de Fair 

2 De Luc, Watt's " ami zele," as he I inflammable et d'air atmospherique, 
described himself, confirms the fact j s'etoit applique a decouvrir la source 
of Cavendish having, in 1782, com- | de cette eau, et qu'il avoit trouv 
municated to Priestley the nature of qu'un melange d'air inflammable et 
his experiments as well as his theory j d'air deplilogistique en proportion con- 
of the composition of water, in the I venable, etant allume par 1'etincelle 
following passage : " Vers la fin de | electrique, se convertissoit tout entier 
1'annee 1782, j'allai a Birmingham, 

oil le Dr. Priestley s'etoit etabli depuis 

quelques anne'es. II me communiqua 
alors que M. Cavendish, d'apres tine 
remarque de M. Warltire, qui avoit 


i eau. Je fus frappe an plus 
degre' de cette de'couverte." ' Idees 
sur la Me'teorologie,' tome 2, 1787, 
pp. 206-7. 


nearly equal, to the weight of the whole air. . . . Are 
we not then authorised to conclude, that water is 
composed of dephlogisticated and inflammable air or 
phlogiston deprived of part of their latent heat ; and 
that dephlogisticated or pure air is composed of water 
deprived of its phlogiston and united to heat and light ; 
and if light be only a modification of heat, or a 
component part of phlogiston, then pure air consists of 
water deprived of its phlogiston or latent heat ? " J 
At the same time Watt wrote to Priestley, - who did not 
himself see the force of the experiments as establishing 
the true composition of water, demonstrating the con- 
clusions which they warranted, and which were iden- 
tical with those already drawn by Cavendish. 

Whether Priestley had communicated to Watt the 
theory of Cavendish does not appear ; but it is probable 
that both arrived at the same conclusions independently 
of each other ; Cavendish from the result of his own 
experiments, and Watt from those of Priestley. Each 
was quite competent to have made the discovery ; nor is 
it necessary for the fame of either to strip a leaf of 
laurel from the brow of the other. Moreover, we are 
as unwilling to believe that Cavendish would have 
knowingly appropriated to himself the idea of Watt, as 
that Watt would have knowingly appropriated the idea 
of Cavendish. As it was, however, Cavendish and 
Watt both claimed priority in the discovery; the 
advocates of Watt's claim resting their case mainly on 
the fact of his having first stated his views on the 
subject in writing, in a letter which he wrote to Dr. 
Priestley for the purpose of being read to the Eoyal 
Society in April, 1783. Before that letter was read, 
Watt asked that it should be withheld until the results 
of some new experiments of Dr. Priestley could be 
ascertained. These proving delusive, Watt sent a 

1 Watt to Black, 21st April, 1783. 




revised edition of the letter to his friend De Luc, in 
November, but the reading of it was delayed until the 
29th April, 1784, before which time, on the 15th 
January, Cavendish's paper on the same subject had 
been communicated to the Society. Watt was much 
annoyed at the circumstance, and alleged that Cavendish 
had been guilty of " plagiarism." At a late period 
of his life, when all bitter feelings on the subject had 
subsided, Watt declared himself indifferent to the 
subject of controversy : " After all," said he, " it matters 
little whether Cavendish or I discovered the composition 
of water ; the great thing is, that it is discovered." 

Pneumatic chemistry continued to form the principal 
subject of discussion at the Lunar Society, as we find 
from numerous references in Boulton and Watt's letters. 
" The Lunar Society," wrote Watt to his partner, " was 
held yesterday at Mr. Galton's at Barr. It was rather 
dull, there having been no philosophical news lately 
except Mr. Kirwan's discovery of an air from phos- 
phorus, which takes fire of itself on being mixed with 
common or dephlogisticated air." 2 Among Watt's 
numerous scientific correspondents was M. Berthollet, 
the eminent French chemist, who communicated to 
him the process he had discovered of bleaching by 
chlorine. Watt proceeded to test the value of the dis- 
covery by experiment, after which he recommended his 
father-in-law, Mr. Macgregor, of Glasgow, to make trial 
of it on a larger scale. This, however, was postponed 

1 That Watt felt keenly on the 
subject, is obvious from his letter to 
Mr. Fry of Bristol (15th May, 1784), 
wherein he says, " I have had the 
honour, like other great men, to have 
had my ideas pirated. Soon after I 
wrote my first paper on the subject, 
Dr. Blagden explained my theory to 
M. Lavoisier at Paris; and soon after 
that, M. Lavoisier invented it himself, 
and read a paper on the subject to the 
Royal Academy of Sciences. Since 

that, Mr. Cavendish has read a paper 
to the Royal Society on the same idea, 
without making the least mention of 
me. The one is a French financier ; and 
the other a member of the illustrious 
house of Cavendish, worth above 
100,OOOZ., and does not spend 1000Z. a 
year. Rich men may do mean actions. 
May 3'ou and I always persevere in 
our integrity, and despise such doings." 
2 Watt to Boulton, 20th September, 



until Watt himself could find time to superintend it in 
person. At the end of 1787, we find him on a visit- 
to Glasgow for the purpose, and writing Boulton that 
he is making ready for the trial. " I mean," he writes, 
" to try it to-morrow, though I am somewhat afraid 
to attack so fierce and strong a beast. There is almost 
no bearing the fumes of it. After all, it does not appear 
that it will prove a cheap way of bleaching, and it 
weakens the goods more than could be wished, whatever 
good it may do in the way of expedition." 1 The experi- 
ment succeeded, and we find Mr. Macgregor, in the 
following February, "engaged in whitening 1500 yards 
of linen by the process." The discovery, not being 
protected by a patent, was immediately made use of by 
other firms ; but the offensive odour of the chlorine was 
found exceedingly objectionable, until it was discovered 
that chlorine could be absorbed by slaked lime, the 
solution of which possessed great bleaching power, and 
this process in course of time superseded all the old 
methods of bleaching by chlorine. 

It has been recently surmised that the action of light 
upon nitrate of silver formed the subject of discussion at 
the Lunar Society, and of experiments by Boulton and 
Watt ; but we find no indications of this in their cor- 
respondence. They were so unreserved with each other 
on all matters of business as well as science that, had 
any phenomena of so remarkable a character as those 
which have issued in the art of photography become 
known to either Boulton or Watt, we feel confident that 
they must have formed the subject of much personal 
discussion, and of many written communications. But 
both correspondents are alike entirely silent on the 
subject ; and we infer that no such experiments were 
made by them, or, if made, that they led to no results ! 2 

1 Watt to Boulton, 30th December, 
1787. Boulton MSS. 

2 Mr. W. P. Smith, of the Patent 

Museum, raised this question at a 
meeting of the Photographic Society 
held on the 3rd November, 1863. 




Among the many foreigners who were attracted 
by this distinguished circle of scientific men, we find 
M. Faujas-Saint-Fond, who visited Birmingham in the 
course of his tour in England in 1785, while the circle 
w r as as yet unbroken, and Watt, Boulton, Priestley, and 
the rest, w^ere in the full tide of business, invention, 
and inquiry. Saint- Fond had the pleasure of dining 
one day with Watt when Dr. Priestley was present, 
and describes in glowing terms the interest of their 
conversation. " Watt," he says, "joins to the frankness 
of a Scotchman the amiability and kindness of a man of 
the world. Surrounded by charming children, well 
educated and full of talent, he enjoys in their midst the 
happiness of regarding them as his friends, while he 
is almost worshipped by them as the best of fathers." 
A subsequent visit which he paid to Dr. Priestley in 
company with Dr. Withering, leads him to describe the 

Certain photographic pictures on metal 
plates were found in Mr. Boulton's 
library at Soho, which, it was sup- 
posed, had not been opened for about 
fifty years ; and it was accordingly 
inferred that these photographs had 
been the work of Mr. Boulton, or some 
member of the Lunar Society, about 
the year 1791. One of them was sup- 
posed to be a view of Soho House 
" before the alterations, which were 
made previous to 1791." But the 
evidence is very defective, as has been 
clearly shown by M. P. W. Boulton, 
Esq., the grandson of Mr. Boulton, 
in his * Remarks concerning certain 
Photographs supposed to be of early 
Date' (Bradbury and Evans, 1804). 
Instead of having been closed for fifty 
years, the room in which the pictures 
were found, was in constant use, and 
the books were freely accessible. It 
is also very doubtful whether the 
house represented in one of the pic- 
tures is old Soho House ; the strong 
probability being that it is not, but a 
house still standing at Winson Green. 
The explanation given by Mr. M. P. W. 
Boulton seems to be the true one 
that the room in question having been 

by a Miss Wilkinson, an expe- 
rimenter in photography after its in- 
vention by Niepce, these photographs 
were merely the results of her first 
amateur experiments in the art. The 
late Mr. Murdock, son of William 
Murdock of Soho, who lived in the 
immediate neighbourhood, was also a 
very good photographist, and was 
accustomed to meet Miss Wilkinson 
to make experiments in the new art. 

There can be no doubt that the 
Wedgwoods of Etruria, more particu- 
larly Josiah's son Thomas, as well as 
Humphry Davy, were early engaged 
in experimenting on the action of light 
upon nitrate of silver, but they wholly 
failed in fixing the pictures. A letter, 
dated " January, 1799," is quoted in 
the ' Photographic Journal ' for Jan. 15, 
1864, as from James Watt to Josiah 
Wedgwood (which must be an error, 
as Josiah died in 1795), in which the 
following words occur : " 1 thank 
you for your instructions respecting 
the silver pictures, about which, when 
at home, 1 will make some experi- 
ments." If such experiments were 
really made, we have been unable to 
find any record of them. 


philosopher's house at Fairhill, then about a mile and a 
half from Birmingham. " It is," he says, " a charming 
residence, with a fine meadow on one side, and a beauti- 
ful garden on the other. There was an air of perfect 
neatness about the place within and without." He 
describes the Doctor's laboratory, in which he conducted 
his experiments, as "situated at the extremity of a 
court, and detached from the house to avoid the danger 
of fire." 

" It consists of several apartments on the ground floor. On 
entering it, I was struck with the sight of a simple and ingenious 
apparatus for making experiments on inflammable gas extracted 
from iron and water reduced to vapour. It consisted of a tube, 
tolerably long and thick, made out of one piece of copper to avoid 
soldering. The part exposed to the fire was thicker than the rest. 
He introduced into the tube cuttings or filings of iron, and instead 
of letting the water fall into it drop by drop, he preferred 
introducing it as vapour. The furnace was fired by coke instead of 
coal, this being the best of combustibles for intensity and equality 
of heat. . . . Dr. Priestley kindly allowed me to make a drawing of 
his apparatus for the purpose of communicating it to the French 
chemists who are engaged in the same investigations as himself. 
. . . The Doctor has embellished his rural retreat with a philo- 
sophical cabinet, containing all the instruments necessary for his 
scientific labours ; as well as a library, containing a store of the most 
valuable books. He employs his time in a variety of studies. 
History, moral philosophy, and religion, occupy his attention by 
turns. An active, intelligent mind, and a natural avidity for 
knowledge, draw him towards the physical sciences ; but a soft and 
impressible heart again leads him to religious and philanthropic 
inquiries. ... I had indeed the greatest pleasure in seeing this 
amiable savant in the midst of his books, his furnaces, and his 
philosophical instruments; at his side an educated wife, a lovely 
daughter, and in a charming residence, where everything bespoke 
industry, peace, and happiness." l 

Only a few years after the date of this visit, while 
Priestley was still busied with his chemical investiga- 
tions, his house at Fairhill, thus described by Saint- 

1 ' Voyage en Angleterre, en Ecosse, et aux lies Hebrides.' Par B. Faujas- 
Saint-Fond. 2 vols. Paris, 1797. 


Fond, was invaded by a brutal mob, who ruthlessly 
destroyed his library, his apparatus, and his furniture, 
and forced him to fly from Birmingham, glad to escape 
with his life. 

The Lunar Society continued to exist for some years 
longer. But one by one the members dropped off. 
Dr. Priestley emigrated to America ; Dr. Withering, 
Josiah Wedgwood, and Dr. Darwin, died before the 
close of the century ; and, without them, a meeting 
of the Lunar Society was no longer what it used to 
be. Instead of an assembly of active, inquiring men, 
it was more like a meeting of spectres with a Death's 
head in the chair. The associations connected with the 
meeting reminding the few lingering survivors of 
the losses of friends became of too painful a character 
to be kept alive ; and the Lunar Society, like the mem- 
bers of which it was composed, gradually expired. Its 
spirit, however, did not die. The Society had stimulated 
inquiry, and quickened the zeal for knowledge of all 
who had come within the reach of its influence ; and 
this spirit diffused and propagated itself in all directions. 
Leonard Homer, who visited Soho in 1809, thus referred 
to the continued moral influence of the association : 
" The remnant of the Lunar Society," he says, " and the 
fresh remembrance in others of the remarkable men who 
composed it, are very interesting. The impression 
which they made is not yet worn out, but shows itself, 
to the second and third generation, in a spirit of scien- 
tific curiosity and free inquiry, which even yet makes 
some stand against the combined forces of Methodism, 
Toryism, and the love of gain." l 

1 Homer's * Memoirs and Correspondence,' ii. 2. 




THE manufacture of counterfeit money was very common 
at Birmingham about the middle of last century, so 
common, indeed, that it had become an almost recognised 
branch of trade. The machinery which was capable of 
making a button with a device and letters stamped upon 
one side of a piece of metal, was capable, with a few 
modifications, of making a coin with a device arid letters 
stamped upon both sides. It was as easy to counterfeit 
one kind of coin as another gold and silver, as well as 
copper ; the former only requiring a little extra skill in 
manipulation, to which the button-makers were found 
fully equal. 

The profits of this illegal trade were of course very 
large ; and so long as the coiners could find a vend for 
their productions, they went on producing. But at 
length the public, smarting from many losses, acquired 
sufficient experience to detect the spurious issues of the 
Birmingham mints ; and when an unusually bright 
shilling or guinea was offered, they had little difficulty 
in pronouncing upon its " Brummagem " l origin. But 
though profitable, the prosecution of this branch of 
business was by no means unattended with risks. While 
some who pursued it on a large scale contrived to 
elevate themselves among the moneyed class, others, 
less fortunate, secured an elevation of a very different 
kind, one of the grimmest sights of those days being 

1 The word " Brummagem " doubtless originated in the numerous issues 
of counterfeit money from the Birmingham minis. 


the skeletons of convicted coiners dangling from gibbets 
on Hands worth Heath. 1 

The production of counterfeit gold and silver coins 
came to be avoided as too dangerous ; but the pro- 
duction of counterfeit copper money continued active at 
Birmingham down to the middle of last century, when 
numerous illegal mints were found in active operation. 
A Royal proclamation was issued on the 12th July, 
1751, warning the coiners against the consequences of 
their illegal proceedings ; and shortly after, the Solicitor 
for the Mint went down to Birmingham, and had many 
of the more noted offenders tried, convicted, and sen- 
tenced to two years' imprisonment. The principal 
manufacturers and traders of the town met and passed 
strong resolutions, condemning the practice of illegal 
coining ; but the evil still continued ; and in 1753 it 
was estimated that not less than half the copper coin 
in circulation was counterfeit. This disgraceful state of 
the coinage suggested, and partly justified, companies, 
firms, and local bodies, in circulating copper coinages of 
their own. These were followed by provincial pence 
and halfpence, which were, in their turn, counterfeited 
by pieces of baser metal. Most of the new copper coins 
of all sorts, good and bad, were executed at Birming- 
ham ; and thus coining shortly became one of the leading 
branches of business there. 

Boulton, as the owner of the largest and best-equipped 
manufactory in the neighbourhood, might have done 
any amount of coining that he desired ; but the dis- 
reputable character of the business deterred him from 
entering upon it, and he refused all orders for coun- 
terfeit money, whether for home or abroad. 2 He took 

1 The punishment for this crime was 
sometimes of a very brutal character. 
In March, 1789, a woman, convicted of 
coining- in London, was first strangled 
by the stool being taken from under 
her, and then fixed to a stake and 

burnt before the debtor's door at New- 

2 " I lately received a letter from a 
Jew about making for him a large 
quantity of base money, but I should 
be sorry ever to become so base as to 

2 c 2 


an active part in the measures adopted by the leading 
manufacturers to prevent illegal coining ; and the 
interest which he felt in commercial questions gene- 
rally continued to keep his attention directed to the 
subject. One of the greatest evils of debased coin- 
age, in his opinion, consisted in the serious losses that 
it occasioned to the labouring people ; many of the 
lower classes of traders and manufacturers buying coun- 
terfeit money from the coiners at half its current value, 
and paying it in wages at full value, thereby wronging 
and defrauding the workmen of their hire. He came 
to the conclusion that the public interest imperatively 
required that the whole of the so-called copper coinage 
in circulation should be swept away and superseded 
by the issue of new coins, the intrinsic value and supe- 
rior workmanship of which should be so palpable as 
effectually to suppress counterfeiting and its numerous 
evils. He had many interviews with the ministers of 
state on the subject ; and we find him alleging in one 
of his letters to a friend that "his principal reason for 
turning coiner was to gratify Mr. Pitt in his wishes 
to put an end to the counterfeiting of money." * 

Other circumstances, doubtless, concurred in keeping 
his attention directed to the subject. Thus, he had 
become largely interested in the copper-trade of Corn- 
wall through the shares he held in the mines as well as 
in the Copper Mining Company ; and he was himself a 
large holder of copper, which he had purchased from 
that Company at a time when they could not dispose of 
it elsewhere. It was also one of his favourite ideas to 
apply the power of the steam-engine to the stamping 

execute such orders. On the contrary 
I have taken some measures to put a 
stop to the execution of them by 
others, and if Mr. Butcher hath any 
plan of that sort he would do well to 
guard against me ; as I certainly shall 
endeavour all in my power to prevent j 

the counterfeiting of British or other 
money that being the principle on 
which I am acting." Boulton to 
Matthews, December, 1787. 

1 Boulton to Woodman, 13th No- 
vember, 1789. 


of money, an idea of which he has the exclusive merit. 
As early as 1774, Watt says Boulton had many con- 
versations with him on the subject ; but it was not until 
the year 1786 that he successfully applied the engine 
for the first time in executing his contract with the East 
India Company for above a hundred tons of copper 
coin. James Watt, in his MS. memoir of his friend 
Boulton, gives the following account of the origin of 
his connexion with the coining business : 

" When the new coinage of gold took place in 178-, Mr. Boulton 
was employed to receive and exchange the old coin, which served to 
revive his ideas on the subject of coinage, which he had long 
considered to be capable of great improvement. Among other 
things, he conceived that the coin should all be struck in collars, to 
make it exactly round and of one size, which was by no means 
the case with the ordinary gold pieces ; and that, if thus made, and 
of one thickness, the purity of the gold might be tested by passing 
it through a gauge or slit in a piece of steel made exactly to fit a 
properly made coin. He had accordingly a proof guinea made, with 
a raised border, and the letters en creux, somewhat similar to the 
penny pieces he afterwards coined for Government. This com- 
pletely answered his intention, as any piece of baser metal which 
filled the gauge was found to be considerably lighter ; or, if made 
to the proper weight, then it would not go through the gauge. 
Such money was also less liable to wear in the pocket than the 
common coin, where all the impression was prominent. The 
proposals on this head were not however approved by those 
who then had the management of His Majesty's Mint, and there 
the matter rested for the time. 

" In 1786 Mr. Boulton and I were in France, where we saw a 
very fine crown-piece executed by Mr. P. Droz in a new manner. 
It was coined in a collar split into six parts, which came together 
when the dies were brought in contact with the blank, and formed 
the edge and the inscription upon it. Mr. Droz had also made 
several improvements in the coining-press, and pretended to 
others in the art of multiplying the dies. As, to his mechanical 
abilities, Droz joined that of being a good die-sinker, Mr. Boulton 
contracted with him to come over to England at a high salary and 
work at Soho, Mr. B. having then the prospect of an extensive 
copper coinage for the East India Company as well as a probability 
of one from Government. In anticipation of this contract, a number 
of coining-presses were constructed, and a steam-engine was applied 
to work them. 




" Mr. Droz was found to be of a very troublesome disposition. 
Several of his contrivances, being found not to answer, were obliged 
to be better contrived or totally changed by Mr. Boulton and his 
assistants. The split collar was found to be difficult of execution, 
and being subject to wear very soon when in use, it was consequently 
unfit for an extensive coinage. Other methods were therefore 
invented and applied by Mr. Boulton, and the use of Droz's collar 
was entirely given up." l 

Although the machinery of the " Hotel de Monnaie," 
which Boulton erected at Soho, was found sufficient for 
the execution of his contract with the East India Com- 
pany, its action was "violent and noisy," and did not 
work to his satisfaction. He accordingly, with his usual 
determination to reach the highest degree of mechanical 
perfection, proceeded to remodel the whole of his coining 
machinery, in the course of which he introduced many 
entirely new contrivances and adaptations. In this he 
was ably assisted by William Murdock, Peter Ewart, 
James Lawson, and John Southern ; but he himself was 
throughout the leading spirit, and took the principal 
part of the work. He originated numerous essential 
improvements in the rolling, annealing, and cleaning 
of the metal, in the forging, multiplying, and tem- 
pering of the dies, and in the construction of the 
milling and cutting-out machines, which were worked 
out in detail by his assistants, after various trials, 
examined and tested by himself; while the arrangement 
and methodising of the system of coining in a word, 
the organisation of the mint was entirely his own 
work. " To his indefatigable energy and perseverance," 
wrote Murdock many years later, " in pursuit of this, 
the favourite and nearly the sole object of the last 
twenty years of the active part of Mr. Boulton's life, 

1 Watt says Droz " did not know 
so much on the subject as Boulton 
himself did," and being found incom- 
petent, a pretender, and disposed to be 

quarrelsome and litigious, lie was 
shortly after dismissed with liberal 




is, in a great measure, to be attributed the perfection to 
which the art of coining has ultimately attained." l 

While thus labouring at the improvement of his 
presses, dies, and the application of the steam-engine 
to the process of coining, Boulton was actively engaged 
in stirring up public opinion on the subject of an 
improved copper coinage. Six presses were fitted and 
ready for work at Soho by the end of 1788 ; 2 but the 
only considerable orders which had as yet been executed 
were the copper coinage of the East India Company, 
another for the American Colonies, and a silver coinage 
for the Sierra Leone Company ; so that the Soho mint, 
notwithstanding the capital, skill, and labour bestowed 
upon it, remained comparatively idle. Boulton con- 
tinued to stir up the Government through his influential 
friends ; 3 and he was at length called before the Privy 

1 In a letter written by James Law- 
son to Matthew Robinson Boulton 
shortly after his father's death, he ob- 
served, " God only knows the anxiety 
and unremitting perseverance of your 
father to accomplish the end ; and we 
all aided and assisted to the best of 
our powers, without ever considering 
by whose contrivance anything was 
brought to bear. Indeed the bringing 
of everything to bear was by your 
father's perseverance, and by his hints 
and personal attendance ; for often he 
attended and persevered in the experi- 
ments till we were all tired." Lawson 
to M. R. Boulton, January 10, 1810. 
Boulton MSS. 

2 We find numerous letters from 
Boulton to Joseph Harrison relative 
to the execution of the presses, and 
the manner in which the various 
details of the work were to be carried 
out. On the 10th of January, 1788, 
he wrote, " Push forward with the 
utmost expedition six of the cutting- 
out presses and one of the coining 
presses. I have engaged to have six 
of each kind at work by this day 
four months. ... I shall be obliged 

to work after the rate of 1500 tons a 
year. I fear I must have eight presses 
[eight were eventually erected] in 
which case I must lengthen the build- 
ing next the Gate road. Pray push 
forward, and be silent." Various 
details as to the working of the 
presses and the execution of the coin 
were given in succeeding letters. 

3 To Lord Hawkesbury he wrote 
(14th April, 1789), " In the course 
of my journeys I observe that I receive 
upon an average two-thirds counterfeit 
halfpence for change at toll-gates, &c. ; 
and I believe the evil is daily in- 
creasing, as the spurious money is 
carried into circulation by the lowest 
class of manufacturers, who pay with 
it the principal part of the wages of the 
poor people they employ. They pur- 
chase from the subterraneous coiners 36 
shillings'- worth of copper (in nominal 
value) for 20 shillings, so that the profit 
derived from the cheating is very large. 
The trade is carried on to so great an 
extent that at a public meeting at 
Stockport in Cheshire, in January last, 
the magistrates and inhabitants came 
to a resolution to take no other half- 




Council and examined as to the best means of pre- 
venting the issue of counterfeit money. He stated 
his views to them at great length ; and the members 
+ were so much impressed by his statements that they 
authorised him to prepare and submit to them a model 
penny, halfpenny, and farthing. This he at once 
proceeded to do, and forwarded them to the Privy 
Council, accompanied by an elaborate report, setting 
forth the superiority of the new coins over those then 
issued from the Mint ; demonstrating that their adoption 
would effectually prevent counterfeiting of base copper 
money, and offering to guarantee the execution of a 
contract for a new coinage, at " not exceeding half 
the expense which the common copper coin hath always 
cost at his Majesty's Mint." ] 

Although the specimens submitted by Boulton to the 
Privy Council were approved and eventually adopted, 
the officials of the Mint were enabled, by mere passive 
resistance, to delay the adoption of the new copper 
coinage for more than ten years. With their lumbering 
machinery they could not execute one-third part of the 
copper coin required for the ordinary purposes of 
currency ; but they could not brook the idea of inviting 
a private individual to do that which they were found 
unable to do with all the powers of the State at their 
back. Rather than thus publicly confess their incom- 
petency, they were satisfied to execute only one-third 
of the copper coinage, leaving it to the forgers and 
private coiners to supply the rest. 

Boulton began to fear that the coining presses which 
he had erected with so much labour, contrivance, and 
expenditure of money, in anticipation of the expected 
Government contract, would remain comparatively idle 

pence in future than those of the 
Anglesey Company [also an illegal 
coinage, though of full weight and 
value of copper], and this resolution 
they have published in their news- 


1 Boulton to the Lords of the Privy 
Council for Trade, 16th December, 




after all. But he did not readily give up the idea of 
executing the new coinage. "Of all the mechanical 
subjects I ever entered upon," he wrote Mr. Garbett, 
" there is none in which I ever engaged -with so much 
ardour as that of bringing to perfection the art of 
coining in the reign of George III., as well as of check- 
ing the injurious and fatal crime of counterfeiting." 
It occurred to him that it might be possible to over- 
come the obstructiveness of officialism by means of 
public opinion ; and he proceeded with his usual vigour 
to rouse the trading interests throughout the country 
on the subject. He had a statement printed and ex- 
tensively circulated among the leading merchants and 
manufacturers, to whom he also sent specimens of his 
model penny and halfpenny, the superiority of which 
to the rubbishy government and counterfeit coin then 
in circulation, was made apparent at a glance. He 
also endeavoured to act upon the Ministry through 
the influence of the King, to whom he presented copies 
of his model gold, silver, and copper coins ; but though 
his Majesty expressed himself highly pleased with them, 
the question of their adoption still remained as much in 
suspense as ever. The appeals to the public were fol- 
lowed by numerous petitions to Parliament and memo- 
rials to the Privy Council against counterfeit money, 
and in favour of the proposed Boulton coinage. 1 

1 In 1787, and again in 1789, we 
find the merchants, traders, and 
others in South wark urgently memo- 
rialising the Lords of the Treasury on 
the subject. The Memorial addressed 
to them in the latter year was signed 
by 800 of the principal inhabitants 
of the Borough, and presented to 
Mr. Pitt by a deputation, headed by 
Mr. Barclay, of Thrale's Brewery, it 
set forth that the counterfeits of cop- 
per coin had become a very serious 
burden and loss, more especially to 
poor manufacturers, labourers, and 
others, many of whom were compelled 

to take counterfeit copper coin in 
payment of their commodities and 
wages ; and concluded by stating that, 
having seen specimens of a new copper 
coinage made by Mr. Boulton of 
Birmingham (under order of the Lords 
of the Privy Council) the Memorialists 
take leave to represent, that such a 
coinage, from its greater weight and 
superior execution, would in their 
opinion afford to themselves and the 
public at large a certain remedy for 
the present grievance, and they there- 
fore strongly recommended its adop- 



In the mean time, to find employment for the coining 
presses he had set up, Boultoii sought for orders from 
foreign and colonial governments. In 1790 and 1792 
lie executed a large quantity of beautiful copper coin * 
for the revolutionary government of France while we 
remained at peace with that country. The coin was 
afterwards suppressed when the government was over- 
turned, to the great loss of the French contractors, who, 
nevertheless, honourably fulfilled their engagement with 
Mr. Boulton. In 1791 he executed for the colony of 
Bermuda a penny coinage; about the same time he 
turned out a large number of provincial halfpenny 
tokens ; 2 and in 1794 he supplied the Madras Presidency 
with its four-faluce and two-faluce coinage. By way 
of exhibiting the artistic skill of Soho, and its ability to 
turn out first-class medal work, Boulton took advantage 
of the King's recovery in 1789, to execute a very fine 

1 The coins were : in 1790, a five- 
sous piece, " Pacte Fede'ratif;" in 
1792, a four sous " Hercule ; " and a 
two sous " Liberte." Boulton's repu- 
tation as a coiner abroad, brought 
upon him while at Paris, a host of 
foreign schemers, one of whom pre- 
tended that he had discovered an 
infallible method of converting copper 
into gold ! The schemer and his wife 
followed Boulton to Soho, accompanied 
by a letter of introduction from his 
friend Baumgarten. After taking 
measure of the schemer, Boulton 
replied to Baumgarten as follows : 

"Deal- Sir, Who the devil have you sent 
me? Is he the angel or the demon (iabriel ? 
Is he a seraphim or a swindler? His pro- 
positions appear in such a questionable form, 
that I know not whether to pronounce him 
F. or H. or S., which are favourite letters 
amongst English philosophers. 

" Doth he mean to make gold by Alchemy, 
or after the family receipt by which his 
mother and brother extracted two hundred 
guineas from my simplicity when at Paris ? 

" I am content with the copper coinage, and 
shall leave the golden one to you and (iabriel. 
The science of alchemy soars so much above 
common sense that I never could obtain so 
much as a peep into its lower regions. This 

said Gabriel and his angel have, however, 
condescended to adopt common sense so far 
as to take up their lodgings in my cottage ! 

" The worst of all is, I am at this juncture 
extremely busy and can't bear interruption ; 
but all that is a trifle when compared with 
the magnitude of his project, viz. converting 
1500Z/into 60,OOOZ. ! But he says a small 
experiment may be made in three days and 
three nights in my laboratory. 1 must, 
however, own that I had rather be in Jonah's 
situation during that time. 

" I wish not to offend this angelic couple, 
but I should prefer that you had them back 
again, with all the favours and profits in- 
tended for rne. However, I cannot help 
wishing you a better thing; for in spite of 
your last favour I sincerely desire for you 
and all that are dear to you, many many 
happy and prosperous years, 
" Ever your faithful and affectionate friend, 

2 The following were the principal 
provincial halfpenny tokens executed at 
Soho : 178y, Cronebane and Dundee ; 
1791, Anglesey, Cornwall, Glasgow, 
Hornchurch, Southampton ; 1793, 
Leeds, London, Penryn, John Wilkin- 
son's; 1794, Inverness, Lancaster; 
1795, Bishops Stortford ; 1800, Ennis- 


medal commemorative of the event. He sent the first 
specimen to his friend M. De Luc, the Queen's Librarian 
at "Windsor, for presentation to her Majesty, who 
expressed herself much pleased with the medal. In his 
letter to De Luc, Boulton stated that he had been the 
more desirous of turning out a creditable piece of work- 
manship, as the art of medalling was one of the most 
backward in England, and had made the least progress 
of any during the reign of his present Majesty. In 
preparing this medal, he had the co-operation of 
Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy, 
who rendered him valuable assistance in supplying the 
best models and portraits of the King from which 
a satisfactory likeness could be made, and he also in- 
spected and corrected the engraving of the dies. 

The success of the medal commemorative of the 
King's preservation was such as to induce Boulton to 
prosecute this department of business, not that it was 
attended with profit, for some of his most costly medals 
were produced for presentation to individuals, and not 
for sale, but that it increased the reputation of Soho, 
and reflected new credit upon the art manufacture of 

In preparing the dies for his various coins and 
medals, we find Boulton seeking and obtaining the 
assistance of Nollekens, Flaxman, Bacon, and Wilton 
(sculptors) ; Mayer (King's miniature painter) ; Gossett 
(modeller) ; but above all, he was mostly indebted for 
friendly help to Benjamin West, who cordially entered 
into his views of " establishing elegant records of the 
medallic arts in the reign of George III." Boulton also 
executed a series of medals commemorative of the great 
events of the French Revolution, for which there must 
have been a considerable demand, as we find him 
sending at one time not less than twenty tons of his- 
torical medals to Messrs. Monneron his Paris agents. 
Amongst these, we may mention his medals of the 




following subjects : The Emperor of Russia ; Assassina- 
tion of the King of Sweden ; Restoration of the King 
of Naples ; Final Interview of the King of France ; 
Execution of the King of France ; Execution of the 
Queen of France ; Serment du Roi ; Lafayette ; J. J. 
Rousseau ; and Respublica Gallica. 1 

The Boulton MS. contains a brief description, in 
Mr. Boulton's handwriting, of the Soho Mint in 1792, 
from which we make the following extract : 

" This Mint consists of eight large coining-machines, which are 
sufficiently strong to coin the largest money in current use, or even 
medals ; and each machine is capable of being adjusted in a few 
minutes, so as to strike any number of pieces of money from fifty to 
one hundred and twenty per minute, in proportion to their diameter 
and degree of relief; and each piece being struck in a steel collar, 
the whole number are perfectly round and of equal diameter. 
Each machine requires the attendance of one boy of only twelve 
years of age, and he has no labour to perform. He can stop his 
press one instant, and set it going again the next. The whole of 
the eight presses are capable of coining, at the same time, eight 
different sizes of money, such as English crowns, 6-livre pieces, 
24-sous pieces, 12-sous, or the very smallest money that is used in 
France. The number of blows at each press is proportioned to the 
size of the pieces, say from fifty to one hundred and twenty blows 
per minute, and if greater speed is wanted, he has smaller machines 
that will strike 200 per minute. 

"As the blows given by Mr. B.'s machinery are much more 
uniform than what are given by the strength of men's arms when 
applied to the working of the common press, the dies are not so 
liable to break, nor the spirit of the engraving to be so soon 
injured ; yet nevertheless, from the natural imperfections of steel, 
and other unavoidable causes, some time will be lost in changing the 

1 The following medals were also 
struck by Mr. Boulton at Soho: 
Prince and Princess of Wales on their 
marriage ; Marquis Cornwallis on the 
peace with Tippoo ; Earl Howe on his 
victory of the First of June ; Hudson's 
Bay Company ; Slave Trade abolished ; 
Chareville Forest ; General Suwarrow 
on his successes in Italy ; the Empress 
Catherine of Russia; in commemora- 
tion of British Victories; Union with 
Ireland ; on the peace of 1802 ; Battle 
of Trafalgar; Manchester and Salford 

Volunteers ; Frogmore Medal ; Prince 
Regent of Portugal ; and the Emperor 
Alexander of Russia. The execution 
of the Trafalgar Medal furnishes a 
remarkable illustration of Boulton's 
princely munificence. It was struck 
on the occasion of Lord Nelson's last 
victory, and presented by him, witli 
the sanction of government, to every 
officer and man engaged in the action. 
Ho gave an additional value to the 
present by confining the medal to this 
purpose only. 


dies and other interruptions. However, it is decided by experience 
that Mr. Boulton's new machinery works with less friction, less 
wear, less noise, is less liable to be out of order, and can strike very 
much more than any apparatus ever before invented; for it is 
capable of striking at the rate of 26,000 ecus or English crowns, 
or 50,000 of half their diameter, in one hour, and of working night 
and day without fatigue to the boys, provided two sets of them work 
alternately for ten hours each." 

When Boulton's eight presses were in full work, 
the quantity of copper coin they turned out was very 
large. They could work off with ease twelve hundred 
tons of coin annually. The quantity of copper thus 
consumed was so great that a difficulty began to be 
experienced in keeping up the supply. Instead of 
being glutted with the metal, as Boulton had been 
before the Mint was started, he had now con- 
siderable difficulty in obtaining sufficient for his pur- 
poses. He seems to have been, in some measure, the 
victim of a combination to keep him out of a supply ; 
for when the holders of copper found out that his 
contract with the East India Company required him 
to deliver the coin within a given time, and that he 
must have the metal, they raised- the prices upon him, 
and copper went up about 6/. a ton. On this, the Bir- 
mingham white metal button-makers lowered the wages 
of their workmen, alleging as the cause the rise in 
the price of copper, " for which they must thank Mr. 
Boulton." The usual strikes followed, with meetings 
of trades delegates and street commotions. Though 
Boulton had confidence in the Birmingham workmen 
generally, among whom he had the reputation of being 
a good master, he feared that, in their excited state, 
malice might stir them to mischief; and he appre- 
hended an attack upon his manufactory. For this he 
accordingly made due preparation, placing a strong 
armed guard of his own workmen upon Soho, having 
the fullest confidence in their fidelity. Writing to his 
friend Wilson in Cornwall, he said, 


..." From the misrepresentations that have been made by the 
delegates, this town has been greatly misguided, and I expect every 
hour riots of a serious nature. 

" Workmen are parading the streets with cockades in their hats. 
They are assembled by beat of drum, and headed by Ignorance and 
Envy, with their eyes turned towards Soho. 

" Yet I am no competitor with the Birmingham trades. I follow 
no business but what I have been myself the father of, and I have 
done much more for the Birmingham manufactures than any other 
individual. I have declined the trade of White Metal Buttons, 
which is the article so much affected by the rise of metals, and 
that in which the rioters are employed. 

" I mix with no clubs, attend 110 public meetings, am of no party, 
nor am I a zealot in religion ; I do not hold any conversation with 
any Birmingham persons; and therefore I know no grounds but 
what may be suggested by wicked and envious hearts for supposing 
me to be the cause of the late rise of copper. 

" However, I am well guarded by justice, by law, by men, and 
by arms." 1 

The danger, however, shortly passed, and the threat- 
ened attack was not made. 

It was not until the year 1797 that Boulton was 
employed to execute a copper coinage for Britain. 
Ten years before, encouraged by the Lords of the 
Treasury, he had fitted up the Mint machinery at a 
heavy cost, in anticipation of this very order ; and 
now, after executing coinages for many foreign govern- 
ments, the order came at last. The new coins consisted 
of twopenny, penny, halfpenny, and farthing pieces. 
Altogether, about 4200 tons of these coins were issued 
from the Soho Mint between 1797 and 1806. So 
sensible were the authorities at the Royal Mint of 
the advantages of Mr. Boulton's improvements in 
coining machinery, that they employed him to erect the 
new Mint on Tower Hill, one of the most complete 
establishments of the kind until then in existence. 
The plans of the new Mint, as regarded the distribution 
of the buildings connected with the mechanical depart- 
ment, were arranged by him ; and the coining ma- 

1 JJoultoii to Wilson, 26th February, 1792. iJoulton M!SS. 


chinery and steam-engines were executed at Soho under 
his immediate direction, though he was at the time 
labouring under the infirmities of age as well as 
suffering under the pressure of a painful disease. He 
had also the honour of supplying Eoyal Mints for 
the Kussian, Spanish, and Danish governments; and 
at a later period for Mexico, Calcutta, and Bombay. 
"In short," said Mr. Watt, in the MS. memoir from 
which we have already quoted, " had Mr. Boulton done 
nothing more in the world than he has accomplished in 
improving the coinage, his name would deserve to be 
immortalised ; and if it be considered that this was done 
in the midst of various other important avocations, and 
at enormous expense, for which, at the time, he could 
have had no certainty of an adequate return, we shall 
be at a loss whether most to admire his ingenuity, his 
perseverance, or his munificence. He has conducted 
the whole more like a sovereign than a private manu- 
facturer ; and the love of fame has always been to him 
a greater stimulus than the love of gain. Yet it is 
to be hoped that, even in the latter point of view, the 
enterprise answered its purpose." 





THE steam-engine had now become firmly established 
as a working power. Beginning as a water pumper 
for miners, it had gradually been applied to drive corn 
and cotton mills, to roll and hammer iron, to coin 
money, to work machinery, and to perform the various 
labour in which the power of men and horses, of wind 
and water, had before been employed. The numerous 
orders for new engines which came in at Soho kept the 
works increasingly busy. Many skilled workmen had 
by this time been trained into expertness and dexterity ; 
and, being kept to their special departments of work, 
fathers training their sons to work with them at the 
same benches, a degree of accuracy and finish was 
reached which contributed to establish and maintain 
the prestige of the manufactory. The prosperity of 
the firm was also materially promoted by the able 
assistants who had been trained at Soho, and were in 
due time promoted to superintend special departments 
of the business. Among these were Murdock, Walker, 
Southern, Ewart, and Lawson, who enjoyed the fullest 
confidence of their chiefs, and repaid it with unswerving 

When the concern had become thoroughly organised 
under these able heads of departments, Boulton and 
Watt began to breathe more, freely. Their financial 
difficulties had now disappeared, and instead of laying 
out capital, they had begun to accumulate it. They 
had laboured hard for their reward and richlv earned 


it; and after their long up-hill struggle, they well 
deserved rest and peace at last. They now began to 
take occasional journeys of recreation, with which they 
varied their journeys of business. Thus, in the autumn 
of 1789, we find Boulton making a tour in Derbyshire, 
during which he was overtaken at Buxton by a letter 
from the Lords of the Privy Council on coining business, 
giving him " marching orders for London ; " but a 
party having been formed to visit the Peak Cavern, he 
decided " to obey the Ladies rather than the Lords." 
Three days later, however, we find him in London, 
" writing in a full chattering coffee-house at Charing 
Cross," and desiring his friend Mr. Barrow to pay his 
respects to the ladies whom he had so hurriedly left. 
While in London, he received a letter inviting him to 
pay a visit to Holland and stand godfather to his friend 
Mr. Hoofletter's son ; to which he replied, that he would 
be glad to stand godfather to the boy and have the 
name of Boulton associated with an honest race, but 
was sorry that he could not assist at the christening or 
at the dinner. " But pray act for me," he added ; " do 
everything that's proper (as is the custom in the 
country) ; give the nurse five guineas from me, and I 
will repay you. My best respects to Mrs. Hoofletter, 
and my blessing on the young Christian." 

Watt's troubles and anxieties also were in course 
of gradual abatement. Though still suffering from 
headaches, asthma, and low spirits, he seems on the 
whole to have become more satisfied with his lot. 
Prosperity agreed with him as it does with most people. 
It is a condition easy to bear, and Watt took to it 
kindly. As years passed over his head, he became 
placid, contented, and even cheerful. His health 
improved, and he enjoyed life in his old age as he had 
never done in his youth. He ceased longing for the 
rest of the grave, and gave over "cursing his inven- 
tions." On the other hand, he took pleasure in looking 

2 D 




back over the long and difficult road he had traversed, 
and in recounting the various steps by which he had 
perfected his great inventions. Nor did he cease to 
invent; for he went on inventing new things to the 
close of his life ; but he followed the pursuit as a 
recreation and delight, and not as a business and a 

Watt too, like his partner, began to make tours of 
pleasure, for the purpose at the same time of gathering 
health and seeing the beauties of nature. In August, 
1789, he wrote Boulton from Cheltenham, that he had 
been making a delightful journey through the Western 
Counties, by way of Worcester, Malvern, Hereford, and 
Chepstow, and that he felt in better health and spirits 
than he had been for a very long time. Occasional 
letters reached him from Birmingham about orders 
received for engines, nothing being done without first 
consulting him. That the concern was thriving, may 
be inferred from the comparative indifference with 
which he now regarded such orders. An engine having 
been ordered by a doubtful person, Watt wrote " I 
look upon such orders as of little value. They are so 
precarious in their duration, and in this case there is 
risk of bad payment or swindling. Whatever care we 
take, he is like a shaved pig with a soaped tail." On a 
demand being made upon him for abatement of dues, he 
wrote " We have never made concessions to anybody 
but they have been attended with loss to us and half a 
dozen more ; and it would appear that, if our patent 
lasted long enough, the power of a horse would grow 
to that of an elephant." 1 

1 There was a great deal of graphic 
vigour in Watt's correspondence about 
engines. Thus, in the case of an 
engine supplied to F. Scott and Co. 
to drive a hammer, it appears that 
instead of applying it to the hammer 
only, they applied it also to blow the 
bellows. The consequence was, that 

it worked both badly. They had also 
increased the weight of the hammer. 
Watt wrote,- " It was easy to foresee 
all this ; and the only adequate remedy 
is to have another engine to blow the 
bellows. It is impossible that a re- 
gular blast can be had while the 
engine works the hammer and bellows, 


In the course of the following summer, Watt visited 
the pleasantest spots in the neighbourhood of London, 
and amongst other places took Windsor in his way, 
where he had the honour of an interview with the 
King. He had already met his Majesty at Whitbread's 
brewery in the early part of 1 787, for the purpose of 
explaining to him the action of the new rotary engine ; 
and the King had expressed the desire to see him again 
when in the neighbourhood of Windsor. The following 
is Watt's brief account of the visit : 

" At Windsor I had a short conversation with the King. He never 
mentioned you nor the coinage, nor anything that led to it ; 
therefore I could not bring it on ; nor do I believe it could have 
been of any service. He asked about engines, and how the Albion 
mill was going on ?^- Answer : Very well in respect to grinding, but 
not so well in regard to the trade. Asked : Who was the manager ? 
Answer: Mr. J. Wyatt, who made the wooden hospitals. He 
observed, that Wyatt was not bred to the milling business ; how 
had he learnt it ? -Answer ; That he was a man of ability and 
observation. A*ked: What sort of engines were we making? 
Answer: For almost everything, but at present principally for 
brewers, distillers, cotton-spinners, iron-men, &c. Asked : How we 
were paid for them.? Answer : By horses power, 61. a year in the 
country, and that we made none under four-horses power. Asked : 
If these premiums afforded sufficient profit ? Answer : That they did 
in large engines, but not in small." * 

As Boulton and Watt advanced in years they looked 
forward with pleasure to the prospect of their two 
eldest sons Matthew Robinson Boulton and James 
Watt, junior joining them in the business they had 
established, and relieving them of the greater part 
of their anxieties and labours in connexion with it. 
Both were young men of intelligence and character, 
carefully educated, good linguists, and well versed in 
practical science. We find many references to the 

without a regulating Idly as big as a 
church. . . . They have been for 
having a 2>ocket bible in large print. 

regular, they must have a blowing 
engine; otherwise they will lose the 
price of one in a few months." 

If they mean to carry on their work I l Watt to Boulton, 27th June, 1790. 

2 D 2 


education of the two young men in the letters of 
Boulton ; few or none in those of Watt. The former 
alike attracted young people and was attracted by 
them, entering heartily into their pursuits ; the latter 
was too much absorbed by study, by inventions, and by 
business, to spare time for the purpose. Besides, he 
was, like his countrymen generally, reserved and un- 
demonstrative in all matters relating to the feelings and 

Both boys were trained and educated so as to follow 
in their fathers' steps. Every pains was taken to give 
them the best culture, and to imbue them with the 
soundest principles. The two boys usually spent their 
holidays together at Soho ; and, growing up together, 
they learnt to think, and feel, and work together. 

" Jim returns to school this evening," wrote Boulton, to Watt in 
Cornwall ; " he has behaved exceedingly well, and not a single bill 
of indictment has been found against him. He had got it into 
his head that he would not be an engineer, which I did not 
contradict, but I gave him and Matt the small wooden water- 
wheel, which they proceeded to erect below my duck-pond, and 
there worked a forge; but not having water enough, necessity 
has put them upon erecting a Savery's engine, which is not yet 
finished, though they are both exceedingly keen upon it. We have 
killed many poor robins by pouring fixable air upon them, and had 
some amusement in our electrical and chemical hobby-horsery, 
which the young ones like much better than dry Latin. Jim 
desires me to ask you to give him leave to learn French." 

At the same time Boulton's own son was making good 
progress under the Rev. Mr. Stretch, to whom Boulton 

"Baron Eeden has gone to the North. On his return, he will 
leave his son with you for a year or two, and then invites Matt to 
return with him to Germany. Youth is the time to learn languages, 
and the Baron's offer is certainly a great temptation ... let him 
[Matt] not neglect the present, but apply himself so as to become 
well grounded in Grammar and Latin ... he is capable, but not 
of close application, to which he must be inured, as no proficiency 
of any kind can be acquired without it." 



The Baron's offer was not, however, accepted ; but 
desirous that his son should acquire proficiency in 
French, Boulton took him over to Paris, towards the 
end of 1786, and placed him under a competent master. 
Many kindly letters passed between father and .son 
during the latter 's stay at Paris. The young man 
spent rather more money than his father thought could 
do him good. He therefore asked him to keep an 
account of his personal expenses, which " must balance 
exactly," and implored him above all things to " keep 
out of bad company." 

" The future reputation and happiness of your life," wrote the 
anxious father, " depend upon your present conduct. I must 
therefore insist that you do not go strolling about Sodom and 
Gomorrah under any pretence whatever. ... It will not be 
pleasant to you to read this, but I must do my duty to you or I 
shall not satisfy my own conscience. I therefore hope you will 
do your duty to yourself, or you cannot do it to me. There is 
nothing on earth I so much wish for as to make you a man, a good 
man, a useful man, and consequently a happy man." 1 

The father's anxieties abated with time ; the son 
applied himself assiduously to French and German, and 
gave promise of becoming a man of ability and cha- 
racter. Writing to his friend Matthews, Boulton said 
" Matt is a tolerable good chemist. . . . He hath 
behaved very well, and I shall be glad when the time 
arrives for him to assist me in the business." In the 
summer of 1788, young Boulton paid his father a 
holiday visit at Soho, returning again to Paris to finish 
his studies. Writing of his departure, to Matthews in 
London, the father said " I hope that my son is set off 
for Dover : my heart overflows with blessings and love 
to him." 2 

his son, 19th De- 

1 Boulton to 
cember, 1787. 

2 Boulton to Matthews, 25th 
August, 1788. In a letter dated the 
preceding day, he wrote " I have 

been exceedingly harassed last week, 
have many letters before me un- 
answered. I cannot sleep at nights, 
and the room 1 write in is so hot by 
the fire-engine chimney as to relax 




The education of young Watt was equally well cared 
for. After leaving school at Birmingham, his father 
sent him for a year to Mr. Wilkinson's ironworks at 
Bersham, to learn carpentry in the pattern shop. 1 He 
then returned to his father's, from whence he was sent 
to school at Geneva, where he remained for three years 
perfecting himself in the modern languages. On his 
return to England in 1788, we find Boulton writing 
to Mr. Barrow of Manchester, asking him to obtain a 
position for young Watt in some respectable counting- 
house, with a view to his acquiring a thorough com- 
mercial training. He was eventually placed in the 
house of Messrs. Taylor and Maxwell, where he re- 
mained for about two years, improving himself in his 
knowledge of business affairs. His father's reputation 
and standing, as well as his own education and accom- 
plishments, served to introduce the young gentleman 
to many friends in Manchester ; and, although far from 
extravagant in his habits, he shortly found that the 
annual sum allowed him by his father was insufficient 
to pay for his board, clothing, and lodging, and at the 
same time enable him to keep clear of debt. Knowing 
Boulton' s always open hand and heart, and his sympathy 
for young people, the embarrassed youth at once applied 
to him for help. Why he did not apply to his father 
will be best understood from his own letter : 

" I am at this moment," lie explained, " on the best footing 
possible with my father, but were I to inform him of my necessities, 
I do not know what would be the consequence. Not that I suppose 

me, and my head is distracted by the 
noise of the engine, by the making 
and riveting of boilers, and by a 
constant knocking at my door by 
somebody or other ; but I believe and 
suspect that the separation of my son 
from me contributes more to the 
oppression of my spirits than anything 

1 " I have sent my son to Mr. 
Wilkinson's ironworks at Bersham, in 

Wales, where he is to study practical 
book-keeping, geometry, and algebra, 
at his leisure hours ; and three hours 
in the day he works in a carpenter's 
shop. I intend he should stay there 
a year ; what I shall do with him 
next 1 know not, but I intend to fit 
him for some employment not so pre- 
carious as my own." Watt to Mrs. 
Campbell, 30th May, 1784. 




the money in itself would be an object to him, but because he would 
look upon it in the light of encouraging what he would call my 
extravagances. Never having been a young man himself, he is 
unacquainted with the inevitable expenses which attend my time 
of life, when one is obliged to keep good company, and does not to act totally different from other young men. My father's 
reputation, and his and my own station in life, require that I should 
live at least on a decent footing. I am not conscious of having 
committed any foolish extravagances, and I have avoided company 
as much as possible; but I have also constantly avoided the 
reputation of avarice, or of acting meanly on any occasion. My 
father, unfortunately for me, measures the present times and circum- 
stances by those when he was of my age, without making the 
proper allowances for their immense disparity ; consequently it is 
in vain for me to endeavour to convince him of the necessity of my 
conduct." ' 

He concluded by expressing his sense of Mr. Boulton's 
many friendly acts towards him, and confessing that 
there was no other person on whom he could so 
confidently rely for help in his emergency. The reply 
of Boulton was all that he could desire. With sound 
fatherly advice, 2 such as he would have given to his 

1 Watt, jun., to Boulton, 4th 
December, 1789. 

2 Mr. Boulton having been absent 
at Bath, some time elapsed before 
young Watt's letter reached him. 
Receiving no reply, the youth became 
apprehensive that his letter had fallen 
into his father's hands, and wrote a 
second letter expressing his fears. 
Thus Boulton replied to both letters 
at the same time, informing his corre- 
spondent for his satisfaction that they 
had reached him "unopened." He 

" I now send agreeably to your request, 
my draft for 50^. payable to myself, that 
I might thereby conceal your name from all 
persons ; and you may tranquillize yourself in 
respect to your father, a* 1 promise you he 
shall not know aught of the transaction. 

" Although I would not willingly give you 
pain, yet I must honestly tell you that 1 am 
not very sorry you experienced some pain 
and anxiety by mv delay ; that you may not 
only feel how uncomfortable it is to be in 

debt, but that you may experience ere long 
how pleasant and how cheerful is independ- 
ence, which no man can possess who is in 
that condition. 

" It is possible your father's ideas may be 
too limited in regard to the quantum neces- 
sary for your expenses; but I think it equally 
probable that yours may be too diffuse, and 
therefore can't help wishing it in my power 
to expand the one and contract the other. 

" I know and speak from experience, that 
the principal articles of expenditure in the 
generality of young men who live in large 
towns are such as produce the least additions 
to their happiness or reputation ; for which 
as well as for some others I know of, I cannot 
help urging you to cut your coat according 
to your cloth, as the sure means of preserving 
the good opinion of your father, and as the 
most likely to induce him to open his hand 
more liberally to you. 

" It's a subject I can't speak to him upon 
without raising his suspicions, but you may 
state to him such arguments as may seem 
meet to yourself in favour of a further 
allowance, and if he speaks to me upon the 
subject, I will do the best I can for you. 




own son under similar circumstances, he sent him a 
draft for 50/., the amount required by young Watt to 
clear him of his debts. 

Among the friendships which he formed at Man- 
chester, was one of an intimate character with Mr. 
Cooper, a gentleman engaged in an extensive business, 
fond of books, and a good practical chemist. We find 
young Watt requesting Boulton to recommend to Mr. 
Cooper " a person to keep his library in order and to 
make experiments for him, he not having time enough 
to attend to the details of them himself." 1 Cooper was 
besides a keen politician, and took an active interest 
in the discussion of the important questions then agi- 
tating the public mind. Watt was inflamed by the 
enthusiasm of his friend, and with the ardour of youth 
entered warmly into his views as to the regeneration of 
man and the reconstruction of society. 

Mrs. Schimmelpenninck has, in her autobiography, 
given a vivid picture of the interest excited in the circle 
of friends amongst whom she moved, by the thrilling 
events then occurring in France, and which extended 
even to the comparatively passionless philosophers 
of the Lunar Society. At one of the meetings held 
at her father's house in the summer of 1788 " Mr. 
Boulton," she says, " presented to the company his son, 
just returned from a long sojourn at Paris. I well 
remember my astonishment at his full dress in the 
highest adornment of Parisian fashion; but I noticed, 
as a remarkable thing, that the company (which con- 
sisted of some of the first men in Europe) all with one 

" I wish you to keep in view that all our 
great Cornish profits have died away till 
now they are very small, that your father is 
building an expensive house, and that he is 
married. For these and other reasons, I wish 
you to alter the scale of your expenses, as the 
surest means of securing your credit and your 
happiness, which I am desirous of promoting 
or 1 should not have expressed myself so 

freely and so unreservedly. . 

" I remain, dear Watt, 
" Your faithful and affectionate friend, 


^-Boulton to Watt, junr., 26th December, 
1789. Boulton MSS. 

1 Watt, junr., to Boulton, 26th 
March, 1789. 


accord gathered round him, and asked innumerable 
questions, the drift of which I did not fully understand. 
It was wonderful to me to see Dr. Priestley, Dr. Wither- 
ing, Mr. Watt, Mr. Boulton himself, and Mr. Keir, 
manifest the most intense interest, each according to his 
prevailing characteristics, as they almost hung upon his 
words ; and it was impossible to mistake the indications 
of deep anxiety, hope, fear, curiosity, ardent zeal, or 
thoughtful gravity, which alternately marked their 
countenances, as well as those of my own parents. My 
ears caught the words ' Marie Antoinette,' ' The Cardinal 
de Rohan,' ' diamond necklace,' ' famine,' ' discontent 
among the people,' ' sullen silence instead of shouts of 
' Yive le Roi ! ' All present seemed to give a fearful 
attention. Why, I did not then well know, and, in a 
day or two, these things were almost forgotten by me ; 
but the rest of the party heard, no doubt, in this young 
man's narrative, the distant, though as yet faint rising 
of the storm which, a year later, was to burst upon 
France and, in its course, to desolate Europe." ] A few 
short months passed, and the reign of brotherhood 
began. " One evening, towards the end of July," 
continues Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, " we saw at a 
distance a vehicle (usually employed to carry servants 
to town or church) returning at more than its usual 
speed. After some minutes the door of the drawing- 
room opened, and in burst Harry Priestley, a youth of 
sixteen or seventeen, waving his hat, and crying out, 
' Hurrah ! Liberty, Reason, brotherly love for ever ! 
Down with kingcraft and priestcraft. The majesty of 
the people for ever ! France is free, the Bastille is 
taken ! '" 2 "I have seen," she adds, " the reception of 
the victory of Waterloo and of the carrying of the 
Reform Bill ; but I never saw joy comparable in its 

1 ' Life of Mary Ann Schimmelpenninck,' 3rd ed., 1859, pp. 125-6. 

2 Ibid., p. 181. 




intensity and universality to that occasioned by the 
early promise of the French Revolution." 

The impressionable mind of Dr. Priestley was moved 
in an extraordinary degree by the pregnant events which 
followed each other in quick succession at Paris ; and 
he entered with zeal into the advocacy of the doctrines 
of liberty, equality, and fraternity, so vehemently pro- 
mulgated by the French " friends of man." His chemical 
pursuits were for a time forgotten, and he wrote and 
preached like one possessed, of human brotherhood, and 
of the downfall of tyranny and priestcraft. He hailed 
with delight the successive acts of the National Assembly 
abolishing monarchy, nobility, church, corporations, and 
other long established institutions. He had already 
been long arid hotly engaged in polemical discussions 
with the local clergy on disputed points of faith ; and 
now he addressed a larger audience in a work which he 
published in answer to Mr. Burke' s famous attack on the 
' French Revolution.' Burke, in consequence, attacked 
him in the House of Commons ; while the French Revo- 
lutionists on the other hand hailed him as a brother, and 
admitted him to the rights of French citizenship. 1 

These proceedings concentrated on Dr. Priestley an 
amount of local exasperation that shortly after burst forth 
in open outrage. On the 14th of July, 1791, a public 
dinner was held at the principal hotel to celebrate the 
second anniversary of the French Revolution. About 
eighty gentlemen were present, but Priestley was not of 

1 " The address of the Societe des 
Amis de la Constitution de Bourdeaux " 
to the Revolutionary Society in 
London, dated the 21st May, 1791, 
contains the following passage : " Le 
jour consacr^ a porter le deuil de M. 
Price [the Rev. Dr. Price recently 
dead, an ardent admirer of the 
French Revolution in its early stages], 
nous avons entendu la lecture du 
Discours de M. 1'Eveque d'Autun sur 
la Liberte' des Cultes : on nous a fait 

en suite le rapport des ouvrages de 
MM. Priestley et Payne qui ont 
vengd M. Price des ouvrages de M. 
Burke; et c'est ainsi que nous avons 
fait son oraison funebre. Peut-etre, 
Messieurs, apprendrez vous av(=c 
quelque interet, que nous avons inscrit 
dans la liste de nos Membres les 
noms de MM. Payne et Priestley ; 
c'est 1'hommage de notre estime, et 
1'estime d'hommcs libres a toujotirs 
son prix." 




the number. A mob collected outside, and after shouting 
" Church and King," they proceeded to demolish the 
inn windows.' The magistrates shut their eyes to the 
riotous proceedings, if they did not actually connive at 
them. A cry was raised, " To the New Meeting- 
house," the chapel in which Priestley ministered ; and 
thither the mob surged. The door was at once burst 
open, and the place set on fire. They next gutted the 
old Meeting-house, and made a bonfire of the pews and 
bibles in the bury ing-ground. It was growing dusk, 
but the fury of the mob had not abated. They made 


at once for Dr. Priestley's house at Fairhill, about a 
mile and a half distant. The Doctor and his family had 

1 The representation given above of 
T)r. Priestley's house is taken from a 
rare hook, entitled * Views of the Ruins 

of the principal Houses destroyed dur- 
ing the Riots at Birmingham, 1791.' 
London, 1792. 




escaped about half an hour before their arrival ; and 
the house was at their mercy. They broke in at once, 
emptied the cellars, smashed the furniture, tore up the 
books in the library, destroyed the philosophical and 
chemical apparatus in the laboratory, and ended by 
setting fire to the house. The roads for miles round 
were afterwards found strewed with shreds of the 
valuable manuscripts in which were recorded the results 
of twenty years labour and study, a loss which 
Priestley continued bitterly to lament until the close of 
his life. 

Thus an utter wreck was made of the philosopher's 
dwelling at FairhilL The damage done was estimated 
at upwards of 4000/., of which the victim recovered 
little more than one-half from the county. The next 
day, and the next, and the next, the mob continued to 
run riot, burning and destroying. On the second day, 
about noon, they marched to Easyhill and attacked and 
demolished the mansion of Mr. Eyland, one of the most 
munificent benefactors of the town. Bordesley Hall, the 
mansion of Mr. Taylor, the banker, was next sacked 
and fired. The shop of the estimable William Hutton, 
the well-known bookseller and author, was next broken 
open and stripped of everything that could be carried 
away ; and from his shop in the town they proceeded 
to his dwelling-house at Bennett's Hill in the country, 
and burnt it to the ground. 1 On the third day, six 
other houses were sacked and destroyed ; three of them 
were blazing at the same time. On the fourth day, 
which was a Sunday, the rioters dispersed in bands 
over the neighbourhood, levying contributions in 

1 " At midnight," says Button, " I 
could see from my house the flames 
of Bordesley Hall rise with dreadful 
aspect. I learned that after I quitted 
Birmingham the mob attacked my 
house there three times. My son 
bought them off repeatedly; but in 
the fourth, which began about nine 

at night, they laboured till eight the 
next morning, when they had so 
completely ravaged my dwelling that 
I write this narrative in a house 
without furniture, without roof, door, 
chimneypiece, window, or window- 
frame. ' The Life of William Hutton,' 
written by himself. London, 1816. 




money and drink ; one body of them burning on their 
way the Dissenting chapel-house and minister's dwell- 
ing-house at Kingswood, seven miles off. Other Dis- 
senters, of various persuasions, farmers, shopkeepers, and 
others, had their houses broken into and robbed in open 
day. It was not until the Sunday evening that three 
troops of the Fifteenth Light Dragoons entered Bir- 
mingham amidst the acclamations of the inhabitants, 
who welcomed them as deliverers. At the instant of 
their arrival, the mob had broken into Dr. Withering's 
house at Edgbaston Hall, and were rioting in his wine- 
cellars, but when they heard that "the soldiers" had 
come at last, they slunk away in various directions. 

The members of the Lunar Society, or " the Lunatics," 
as they were popularly called, were especially marked 
for attack during the riots. A common cry among the 
mob was " No philosophers Church and King for 
ever ! " and some persons, to escape their fury, even 
painted " No philosophers " on the fronts of their 
houses ! There could be no doubt as to the meaning of 
this handwriting on the wall. Priestley's house had 
been sacked, and Withering's plundered. Boulton arid 
Watt were not without apprehensions that an attack 
would be made upon them, as the head and front of the 
" Philosophers" of Birmingham. They accordingly 
prepared for the worst ; called their workmen together, 
pointed out to them the criminality of the rioters' pro- 
ceedings, and placed arms in their hands on their 
promising to do their utmost to defend the premises if 
attacked. In the mean time everything portable was 
packed up and ready to be removed at a moment's 
notice. Thus four days of terror passed, but the mob 
came not ; Watt attributing the safety of Soho to the 
fact that most of the Dissenters lived in another direction. 1 

1 " Though our principles, which are 
well known, a& friends to the estab- 
lished government and enemies of 

republican principles, should have 
been our protection from a mob whose 
watchword was Church and Kiuu, 


Many of the rioters were subsequently apprehended, 
and several of them were hanged ; but the damage 
inflicted on those whose houses had been sacked was 
irreparable, and could not be compensated. As for 
Dr. Priestley, he shook the dust of Birmingham from 
his feet, and fled to London ; from thence emigrating 
to America, where he died in 1804. 

While such was the blind fury of the populace 
of Birmingham, the principles of the French Eevolu- 
tion found adherents in all parts of England. Clubs 
were formed in London and the principal provincial 
towns, and a brisk correspondence was carried on be- 
tween them and the Revolutionary leaders of France. 
Among those invested with the rights of French 
citizenship were Dr. Priestley, Mr. Wilberforce, Thomas 
Tooke, and Mr. (afterwards Sir) James Mackintosh. 
Thomas Paine and Dr. Priestley were chosen members 
of the National Convention ; and though the former 
took his seat for Calais, the latter declined, on the 
ground of his inability to speak the language suffi- 
ciently. Among those carried away by the poli- 
tical epidemic of the time, were young James Watt 
and his friend Mr. Cooper of Manchester. In 1792 
they were deputed, by the " Constitutional Society " 
of that town, to proceed to Paris and present an 
address of congratulation to the Jacobin Club, then 
known as the " Societe des Amis de la Constitution." * 
While at Paris, young Watt seems to have taken an 
active part in the fiery agitation of the time. He was 
on intimate terms with the Jacobin leaders. Southey 

yet our safety was principally owing 
to most of the Dissenters living south 
of the town; for after the first mo- 
ments they did not seem over nice in 
their discrimination of religion and 
principles. I, among others, was 
pointed out as a Presbyterian, though 
I never was in a meeting-house in 
Birmingham, and Mr. Boulton is well 

known as a Churchman. We had 
everything most portable packed up, 
fearing the worst. However, all is 
well with us," Watt to De Luc, 
19th July, 1791. 

1 The ' Discours ' delivered by the 
MM. Cooper and Watt (1792) may be 
seen at the British Museum. 


says that he was even the means qf preventing a duel 
between Daiiton and Robespierre, to the former of 
whom he acted as second. 1 Robespierre afterwards 
took occasion to denounce both Cooper and Watt as 
secret emissaries of Pitt, on which young Watt sprang 
into the tribune, pushing Robespierre aside, and defended 
himself in a strain of vehement eloquence, which com- 
pletely carried the assembly with him. From that 
moment, however, he felt his life to be unsafe, and he 
fled from Paris without a passport, never resting until 
he had passed the frontier and found refuge in Italy. 

The public part he had taken in French Revolu- 
tionary politics could not fail to direct attention to him 
on this side of the channel. His appearance at a 
public procession, in which he carried the British 
colours, to celebrate the delivery of some soldiers 
released from the galleys, was vehemently denounced 
by Mr. Burke in the House of Commons. The 
notoriety which he had thus achieved, gave his father 
great anxiety ; and after young James's return to 
England in 1794, he was under considerable appre- 
hensions for his safety. Several members of the London 
political Societies had been apprehended and lodged in 
the Tower, and Watt feared lest his son might in some 
way be compromised by his correspondence with those 
societies. Boulton, then in London, informed him of 
the severe measures of the Government, and of the 
intended suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act ; to which 
Watt replied, 

" I thank you for your intelligence, which I have communicated 
with due caution to Mr. S. and my son. The former says he has 
had no correspondence whatever with any of these societies, 
nor has frequented any here, that he may have uttered unguarded 
or foolish words in private companies, but that he knows nothing of, 
nor is he concerned in, any plot or political scheme whatsoever. 
The latter says he never corresponded with any of them at any 

1 ' Lite of Southey,' vi. 209. 


time, though he once executed a commission for one of them, and 
sent his answer to Mr. Tr., that for these two years he has had no 
sort of connexion with any of them, and for more than a year all 
his correspondence has been recommending his friends not to 
intermeddle with public affairs. As he proposes to see you to-morrow, 
he will explain himself, and I need not bid you council him for the 
best." 1 

A few days later, his apprehensions of danger to his 
son not being removed, he wrote Boulton again as 
follows : 

" I am made very uneasy on account of James by this Bastille Act 2 
now (I fancy) passed, and which I cannot help thinking un pen trop. 
I submit whether it might not be best for you to endeavour to make 
his peace with M[inist]ry by a candid avowal of his errors, and 
of his subsequent change of sentiment and renunciation of all 
correspondence with these traitors. In the mean time he had better 
make the best of his way to here, Liverpool, or Scotland ; from 
either of the latter he might find his way to America if necessary. 
In any case let him not go in company with any of the persons who 
have laid themselves open to suspicion. I would not, however, 
have him rashly run out of the country. M[iiiist]ry must know 
who have been the active abettors of the plot, and, if they act 
wisely, will not molest those who have seen their error or have had 
the good sense to resist all temptations of engaging in plots against 
the peace of the country, whatever their opinions about parlia- 
mentary representation might be. . . . Query, whether Denmark, 
Hamburg, or Norway, might not be preferable to America, lest 
we go to war with the latter. If you find he is obnoxious, his 
letters to me should be directed by another hand, and not 
signed." 3 

Four days later, Watt's alarm was not abated by the 
appearance in Birmingham of king's messengers making 
seizures of persons concerned in seditious correspond- 
ence. " They have taken up," he wrote, " one Pare, 
who kept a reforming club at his house, and one or two 
others. The soldiers were ordered under arms to 
prevent tumult. I hear also that Wilkinson has been 
threatened with a mob at Bradley, and has prepared to 

1 Watt to Eoulton, 16th May, 
1794. Boulton MSS. 

2 The Habeas Corpus Act was sus- 

pended on the 23rd May, 1794. 

3 Watt to Boulton, 19th May, 
1794. Boulton MSS. 




defend himself with cannon, pikes, &c., but that matters 
are now quiet there. In respect to James, you must 
advise him, I cannot ; but I think he would be better 
at home, following his business, than elsewhere." l 
James eventually returned to Birmingham, where we 
find him from this time forward taking an increasingly 
active part in the affairs of the concern. He took 
entire charge of the manufacture of the letter-copy- 
ing machines, now become a considerable branch of 
the business ; and he shortly after entered the engine 
firm as a partner, in conjunction with Mr. Boulton's 
eldest son, Matthew Robinson. 

The infusion of young blood had the effect of im- 
parting new vigour to all the branches of manufacture 
at Soho, and at the same time of relieving the senior 
partners from a considerable amount of labour and 
anxiety. The business was now in a very thriving 
state ; there was abundance of orders for engines 

1 Watt to Boulton, 23rd May, 
1794. Young Watt continued to 
sympathise with his political friends ; 
as we find him, some months later, 
writing Matthew K, Boulton from 
London as follows : " The citizens 
here are all in very high spirits since 
the late trials; and I had the honour of 
dining with two of the acquitted felons 
on Sunday last." Watt, junr., having 
remained for some time in London on 
business connected with the prosecu- 
tion of Bull and others for infringement 
of his father's patent, Boulton, junr., 
kept up an active correspondence with 
him on the aifairs of the firm. In 
one letter (19th February, 1795), after 
discussing various matters of detail 
relating to the letter-copying machine 
and engine business, Boulton entreats 
his friendjx) send him down a supply 
of hair-po'wder. " I have to intrust 
to your care," he says, " the execution 
of an important commission on the 
part of the ladies and myself. The 
report of a scarcity of hair-powder has 
caused great consternation amongst 
the beaux and belles here, and we beg 

of you to preserve for us 1 cwt. of 
that necessary article." To which 
Watt, jun. replied, " Your new 
order is in train, so that I hope 
(whatever the poor may suffer by 
the destruction of so scarce an article 
of nourishment) your aristocratical 
vanity will be gratified, with only the 
additional sacrifice of one guinea per 
annum to your immaculate friend Mr. 
Pitt, for the purpose of carrying on 
this 'just and necessary war!' 
Under the existing circumstances, I 
am doubtful whether I shall not 
sacrifice my aristocratical appendage 
[queues being then the appendages of 
gentlemen], as it goes much against 
my inclination to throw away my 
money at this moment of personal 
poverty, or to contribute any sum, 
however small, to the support of 
measures which I reprobate in toto. 
On the other hand, however, I do say 
that, of all the taxes which have ever 
been imposed within my memory, 
this is the most politic and the least 
likely to be burdensome to the poor." 
Boulton MSS. 

2 E 


coming in ; and the principal difficulty of the firm 
was in finding skilled workmen enough to execute 
them. Thus we find Watt junior writing to Boulton 
junior in January, 1795, "We must have additional 
men, rather too many than too few, until we have got 
the start of our orders, for without that we shall always 
feel ourselves embarrassed and clogged. I shall therefore 
desire Rennie to renew his applications at Lancaster, 
which appear as yet to have been unsuccessful." 

The junior members of the firm were also useful 
in protecting the engine patent right, the infringe- 
ment of which had become general all over the country. 
This was a disagreeable part of their business ; but, if 
not attended to, the patent must be given up as worth- 
less. The steam-engine was now regarded as an in- 
dispensable power in manufacturing operations. It 
had become employed in all important branches of 
industry ; and it was, of course, the interest of the manu- 
facturers to avoid the payment of dues wherever they 
could. An instance of this evasion was detected at the 
Bowling Ironworks near Bradford, and notice was 
given of proceedings against the Company for recovery 
of dues. On this the Bowling Company offered to 
treat, and young Watt went down to Leeds for the 
purpose of meeting the representatives of the Bowling 
Company on the subject. On the 24th February, 1796, 
he wrote his friend Matthew Robinson Boulton as 
follows : 

" Inclosed you have a copy of the treaty of peace, not amity, 
concluded at Leeds, on Saturday last, between me, Minister 
Plenipotentiary to your Highnesses on the one part, and the Bowling 
Pirates in person on the other part. I hope you will ratify the 
terms, as you will see they are founded entirely upon the principle 
of indemnity for the past and security for the future. The diameter 
and length of stroke of their different engines, four in number, 
I have ; the times of their commencing to work will be sent you by 
Mr. Paley ; and the amounts of the premiums may be definitively 
calculated upon my arrival, which will be about the latter end of 
this week." 


Another engine constructed after Watt's patent was 
discovered working at a mill at Carke, in Cartmel, 
Lancashire. Mr. Stockdale, son of the proprietor, tells 
the following story of its detection. He states that the 
first engine employed at the works was one on New- 
comen's construction, which was used to pump water 
into the reservoir which supplied the water-power by 
which the mill was driven. It was then determined 
to apply the steam-power direct to the machinery, 
and a new engine was ordered from Manchester, 
without communicating with the patentees. The mill 
was in full work when a stranger called, representing 
that he belonged to the concern of Boulton and Watt, 
and requesting to inspect the engine. The request 
was complied with, and Mr. Stockdale afterwards 
invited him to stay to dinner; but it was the dearest 
dinner he ever gave, as only a few weeks later a claim 
for 1800/. was made by Boulton and Watt for dues 
upon the engine, which was, however, eventually com- 
promised by the payment of 40 O/. 

The most unscrupulous pirates, however, were the 
Cornishmen who, emboldened by the long quiescence 
of Boulton and Watt, and knowing that the patent 
had only five or six more years to run, believed 
that they might set the patentees at open defiance, 
which they proceeded to do. Notwithstanding the 
agreements entered into and ratified on both sides, 
they refused point blank to pay further dues ; and 
Boulton and Watt were thus at last driven to have 
recourse to the powers of the law. Had they remained 
passive, it might have been construed into a tacit 
admission that the patent right had from the first been 
indefensible, and that the sums which they had up to 
that time levied for the use of their engine had been 
wrongfully paid to them. But neither had ceased to 
have perfect faith in the validity of their patent, and 
both determined, even at this late stage, to defend it. 

2 E 2 




" The rascals," wrote Watt to Boulton, " seem to have 
been going on as if the patent were their own. . . . We 
have tried every lenient means witli them in vain ; and 
since the fear of God has no effect upon them, we must 
try what the fear of the devil can do." 1 Legal pro- 
ceedings were begun accordingly. The two actions 
on which the issues were tried were those of Boulton 
and Watt v. Bull, and Boulton and Watt v. Horn- 
blower and Maberley ; and they were fought on both 
sides with great determination. The proceedings ex- 
tended over several years, being carried from court to 
court ; but the result was decisive in both cases in favour 
of Boulton and Watt. It was not until January, 1799, 
that the final decision of the judges was given ; 2 almost 
on the very eve of expiry of the patent, which had not 
then a full year to run. It was not, however, with 
a view to the future that these costly, anxious, and pro- 
tracted legal proceedings had been carried on,- but 
mainly for the recovery of dues under existing agree- 
ments, and for dues on engines erected in various 
quarters in infringement of the patent. Most of the 
Cornish adventurers had paid nothing for years. Thus 
Poldice had paid nothing since October, 1793, and was 
in arrear 2330/. Wheal Gons had paid nothing since 
May, 1793, and was in arrear 4290/. The Wheal 
Treasure adventurers, and many others, had set Boul- 
ton and Watt at open defiance, and paid nothing at all. 
On the issue of the proceedings against Bull, Boulton 
and Watt called upon the Mining Companies to " cash 
up," and arrears were shortly collected, though with 
considerable difficulty, to the amount of about 30,000/. 
Young Boulton went into Cornwall for the purpose 

1 Watt to Boulton, 20th March, 

2 " We have WON THE CAUSE hol- 
low," Watt wrote from London. " All 
the Judges have given their opinions 
carefully in our favour, and have passed 

judgment. Some of them made letter 
arguments in our favour than our own 
counsel, for lious's speech was too 
long and too divergent. 1 most sin- 
cerely give you joy." Watt to 
Boulton, 25th January, 1799. 


of arranging the settlements, and managed the business 
with great ability. " I am now to congratulate you," 
Watt wrote to his partner from Glasgow, whither he 
had gone on a visit, " on the success of Mr. R. Boulton's 
very able transactions in Cornwall ; and I hope that at 
last we may be freed from the anxiety of the issue of 
law which has so long attended us, and enjoy in peace 
the fruits of our labours. When you write to Mr. B. 
I beg you will present my best wishes and best respects 
to him, expressing my warmest approbation of his 
exertions." On another occasion, while the cause was 
in progress before the courts of law, Watt wrote, 
" In the whole affair, nothing was so grateful to me 
as the zeal of our friends and the activity of our young 
men, which was unremitting." 

The senior members of the firm had for some time 
been gradually withdrawing from the active manage- 
ment of the concern. We find Watt writing to Dr. 
Black in 1798, "In regard to the engine business, I 
now take little part in it, but it goes on successfully." 
Four years later he wrote, " Our engine trade thrives ; 
the profits per cent, are, however, very, very moderate ; 
it is by the great capital and expensive establishment of 
engineers, &c., that we keep it up ; without our tools 
and men very little could be done, as we have many 
competitors, some of whom are men of abilities." But 
the business was now safe in the hands of the young 
and active partners, who continued to carry it on for 
many years, with even greater success than their fathers 
had done. They reaped the harvest of which the 
others had sown the seed. The patent right expired in 
1800 ; but the business of the firm, nevertheless, became 
larger and more remunerative than it had ever been 
before. The superior plant which they had accumu- 
lated, their large and increasing capital, the skilled 
workmen whom they had trained, and the first-class 
character of the work which they turned out, gave the 


establishment of Boultort and Watt a prestige which 
they long continued to maintain. 

The young partners had also the great advantage 
of the skilled heads of the different departments, who 
had been trained by long and valuable experience. 


For many years William Murdock was the Mentor 
of the firm. Though tempting offers of partnerships 
were made to him, he remained loyal to Boultoii and 
Watt to the last. They treated him generously, and he 
was satisfied to spend his life in their service. He had 
gradually worked his way to the foremost place in their 
establishment, besides achieving reputation as an in- 
ventor and a man of practical science. His model 


locomotive of 1784 was the first machine of the kind 
made in this country ; and it is to be regretted that he 
did not pursue the subject. But Murdock was a very 
modest, unambitious man, content to keep in the back- 
ground, and not possessed by that "pushing" quality 
which helps so many on to fortune. We have already 
stated that he invented the sun and planet motion, 
which was eventually adopted by Watt in preference to 
his own method of securing rotary motion. His daily 
familiarity with pumping-engiiies in Cornwall also led 
him to suggest and introduce many improvements in 
their details, which Boulton and Watt were always 
ready to adopt. He was a great favourite in Cornwall, 
and not less esteemed for his estimable and manly 
qualities than for his mechanical skill. When the 
adventurers heard of his intention to return to Soho, 
in 1798, they offered him 1000/. a year to continue at 
the mines, but he could not be tempted to remain. 

Eeturned to Soho, Murdock was invested with the 
general supervision and management of the mechanical 
department, in which he proved of essential value. He 
was regarded as " the right hand " of Boulton and 
Watt. He proceeded to introduce great improvements 
in the manufacture of the engines, contriving numerous 
machines for casting, boring, turning, and fitting the 
various parts together with greater precision. His 
plan of boring cylinders by means of an endless screw 
(turned by the moving power) working into a toothed 
wheel, whose axis carried the cutter head, instead of by 
spur gear, was found very useful in practice, and pro- 
duced a much more smooth and steady motion of the 
machine. As early as 1785, he invented the first 
oscillating engine, 1 which still continues in use in 
various improved forms. His invention of the double 

1 The muck'l was carefully preserved and exhibited with pride by his son, 
in whose house at Hanilsworth we saw it in 1857. 




D slide valve, in place of the four poppet valves in Watt's 
double engine, 1 was also found of great value ; saving 
steam, and ensuring greater simplicity in the construction 
and working of the engine. In his oscillating engine 
the motion is given to the slide valve by the oscillation 
of the cylinder, and engines of small power still continue 
to be worked in this manner. Another of his improve- 
ments in engine construction was his method of casting 
the steam cases for cylinders in one piece, instead of 
in separate segments bolted together, according to the 
previous practice. He also invented a rotary engine 
of an ingenious construction ; but though he had one 
erected to drive the machines in his private workshop, 
where it continued employed for about thirty years, it 
never came into general use. 2 Murdock had a good 
deal of the temperament of Watt : he was always 
scheming improvements, and was most assiduous in 
carrying them out. In such cases he would not 
trust to subordinates, but executed his designs himself 
wherever practicable ; and he sometimes carried his 
labours so far into the night that the rising sun found 
him at his anvil or his turning lathe. 

Murdock is also entitled to the merit of inventing 
lighting by gas. The inflammable qualities of the air 
obtained by distillation of coal had long been known, 3 

1 Watt said to Robert Hart, " When 
Mr. Murdock introduced the slide valve, 
I was very much against it, as I did 
not think it so good as the poppet 
valve, but I gave in from its sim- 
plicity." Hart, * Reminiscences,' &c. 

2 These several inventions were 
embodied by him in a patent taken 
out in 1799. 

3 Burning springs, though by no 
means common in Europe, were not 
unknown. They were kept .burning 
by natural and spontaneous supplies 
of carburetted hydrogen gas issuing 
from fissures in the earth overlying 
beds of asphalte or coal. The inflam- 
mable character of fire-damp and the 

explosions which it occasioned in coal 
mines were also familiar to most 
persons living in the coal-mining dis- 
tricts. In 1658 Mr. Thomas Shirley 
first communicated to the Royal So- 
ciety the result of some experiments 
which he had made on the inflammable 
gas issuing from a well nearWigan in 
Lancashire. Some time before 1691. 
the Rev. Dr. Clayton, Dean of Kildare, 
made some experiments on what he 
called the spirit of coal : he distilled 
some coal in a retort, and, confining 
the gas produced thereby in a bladder, 
he amused his friends by burning it 
as it issued from a pin-hole. In 1721 
Dr. Stephen Hales found it was prac- 




but Murdock was the first to apply the knowledge to 
practical uses. The subject engaged much of his atten- 
tion in the year 1792, when he resided at Eedruth. 
As his days were fully occupied in attending to his 
employers' engine business, it was only in the evenings, 
after the day's work was over, that he could pursue the 
subject. It is not improbable that he was led to under- 
take the investigation by Mr. Boulton's chemical enthu- 
siasm, which communicated itself to all with whom he 
came in contact. It will be remembered that the latter 
occupied much of his leisure at Cosgarne in analysing 
earths, minerals, and vegetable substances, trying to 
find out the gases they contained ; and Murdock was 
his zealous assistant on these occasions. In the paper 
which he communicated to the Royal Society on the 
subject of lighting by coal-gas in 1808, for which they 
awarded him their large Kumford Gold Medal, he ob- 

"It is now nearly sixteen years since (1792), in the course of 
experiments I was making at Kedruth, in Cornwall, upon the 
quantities and qualities of the gas produced by distillation from 
different mineral and vegetable substances, that I was induced by 
some observations I had previously made upon the burning of coal, 
to try the combustible property of the gases produced from it, as 
well as from peat, wood, and other inflammable substances; and 
being struck with the great quantities of gas which they afforded, 

ticable to produce elastic inflammable 
air from coal and other substances, 
and that nearly one -third of Newcastle 
coal was drawn off in vapour, gas, &c.> 
by the action of heat. In 1733 Sir 
James Lowther communicated to the 
Koyal Society a paper on the subject of 
the fire-damp issuing from the shaft 
of a coal mine near Whitehaven, 
which had been accidentally set fire 
to and continued to burn for two 
years. Dr. Watson, Bishop of Landaff, 
and Dr. Priestley of Birmingham, 
examined the properties of coal-gas, 
and made experiments on its inflam- 
mable qualities, but pursued the 
subject no further. Lord Dundonald 

also had been accustomed, for the 
amusement of his friends, to set fire 
to the gas disengaged by the burning 
of coal in the process of coke-making. 
The same phenomena must have been 
observed on a large scale wherever 
coke was made. Each chamber in 
which coal was distilled was in point 
of fact a gas retort. Oil and gas were 
the products of the distillation ; but 
strange to say, although the oil was 
collected and used, no heed was taken 
of the gas. Nor was it until Mr. 
Munlock's attention was called to the 
subject that lighting by gas was 
proved to be practicable. 


as well as the brilliancy of the light, and the facility of its 
production, I instituted several experiments with a view of 
ascertaining the cost at which it might be obtained, compared with 
that of equal quantities of light yielded by oils and tallow. My 
apparatus consisted of an iron retort, with tinned iron and copper 
tubes, through which the gas was conducted to a considerable 
distance ; and there, as well as at intermediate points, was burnt 
through apertures of various forms and dimensions. The experi- 
ments were made upon coal of different qualities, which I procured 
from different parts of the kingdom for the purpose of ascertaining 
which would give the most economical results. The gas was also 
washed with water, and other means were employed to purify it." 1 

Murdock put his discovery to the best practical test 
by lighting up his house and offices at Redruth with 
gas ; and he had a gas lantern constructed, with a jet 
attached to the bottom of the lantern and a bladder of 
gas underneath, with which he lighted himself home 
at night across the moors when returning from his 
work to his house at Eedruth. 2 On the occasion of 
a visit which he made to Soho in 1794, he took the 
opportunity of mentioning to Mr. Watt the experi- 
ments he had made, and their results ; expressing 
his conviction of the superior economy, safety, and 
illuminating qualities of coal-gas, compared with oils 
and tallow. He then suggested that a patent should 
be taken out for the application, and at various subse- 
quent periods he urged the subject upon the attention 
of his principals. But they were at the time so harassed 
by litigation in connexion with their own steam-engine 
patent, that they were unwilling to enter upon any 

1 ' Philosophical Transactions,' 1808, 
pp. 124-132. 

2 Many years later (in 1818), when 

how to reach the house over such bad 
roads was a question not easily solved. 
Mr. Murdock, however, fruitful in 

Murdock was at Manchester for the resources, went to the Gas Works, 

purpose of starting one of Boulton and 
Watt's engines, he was invited, with 
Mr. William Fairbairn, to dine at 
Medlock Bank, then at some distance 
from the lighted part of the town. 
"It was a dark winter's night," writes 
Mr. Fairbairn, our informant, " and 

(then established in Manchester), 
where he filled a bladder which he 
had with him, and placing it under 
his arm like a bagpipe, he discharged 
through the stem of an old tobacco- 
pipe a stream of gas which enabled us 
to walk in safety to Medlock Bank." 




new enterprise which might possibly lead them into 
fresh embroilments ; and nothing was done to protect 
the invention. 

On Murdock's return to Soho in 1798, he pro- 
ceeded with his investigations, and contrived an ap- 
paratus for making, purifying, and storing the gas 
on a large scale ; and several of the offices in the 
building were regularly lighted by its means. On 
the general illumination which took place in celebration 
of the Peace of Amiens in 1802, the front of Soho 
Manufactory was brilliantly illuminated with gas, to 
the astonishment and admiration of the public. The 
manageableness, the safety, the economy, and the bril- 
liancy of the new light being thus proved, Boulton and 
Watt in 1803 authorised Murdock to proceed with the 
general fitting up of the manufactory with pipes and 
burners, and, from that date, it continued to be regu- 
larly lit up with coal-gas. Several large firms followed 
their example ; amongst others Phillips and Lee, Burley, 
and Kennedy, at Manchester, and Gott and Sons, at 
Leeds ; and the manufacture of gas-making apparatus 
became one. of the regular branches of business at Soho. 
Several years later, in 1805, when Watt went down to 
Glasgow, he found gas in pretty general use. 

" The new lights," he wrote to Boulton, " are much in vogue 
here ; many have attempted them, and some have succeeded tolerably 
in lighting their shops with them. I also hear that a cotton-mill 
in this neighbourhood is lighted up with gas. A long account of 
the new lights was published in the newspapers some time ago, in 
which they had the candour to ascribe the invention to Mr. Murdock. 
From what I have heard respecting these attempts, I think there is 
full room for the Soho improvements, 1 though, when once they see 
one properly executed, it will have numerous imitations." 

Several years after the introduction of the new light, 

1 Watt here alluded to the new 
machinery and plant erected at Soho 
under Murdock's directions, at a cost 

of about 5000Z. for the purpose of 
manufacturing gas apparatus. 




a German, named Wintzer or Winsor, brought out (in 
1809) a scheme similar to one projected in Paris by 
Le Bon, for lighting the streets by gas. He proposed 
a Joint Stock Company, with a capital of 300,000/., 
and held forth to subscribers the prospect of a profit 
of ten thousand per cent. ! l He applied to Parlia- 
ment for a Bill, against which Murdock petitioned, 
and was examined before the Committee. Though 
they were staggered by the crudities of Winsor, they 
had some difficulty even in accepting the more modest 
averments of Murdock as to the uses of coal-gas for 
lighting purposes. " Do you mean to tell us," asked 
one member, "that it will be possible to have a light 

1 The invention of lighting by gas 
has by some writers been erroneously 
attributed to Winsor. It will be 
observed, from the statement in the 
text, that coal-gas had been in regular 
use long before the appearance of his 
scheme, which was one of the most 
crude and inflated ever brought before 
the public. " The Patriotic Imperial 
and National Light and Heat Com- 
pany," proposed amongst other things 
to aid and assist Government with 
funds in times of emergency, to 
increase the Sinking-fund for reducing 
the National Debt, to reward merito- 
rious discoverers, &c. &c. Some idea 
of the character of the project may be 
formed from Mr. [Lord] Brougham's 
speech in opening the case against the 
Bill : " ' The neat annual profits,' says 
Mr. Winsor, * agreeable to the official 
experiments' (that is, the experiments 
of Mr. Accum . . . . ) ' amount to 
229,353,6272.' .... now Mr. Winsor 
says, that he will allow there may be 
an error here, for the sake of argu- 
ing with those who still have their 
doubts ; and he will admit that the sum 
should be taken at only one half, or 
114,845,2942. ; and then giving up, 
to meet all possible objections, nine- 
tenths of that sum, still there will 
remain, to be paid to the subscribers 
of this Company, a yearly profit of 
5702. for every 52. of deposit ! So that 
upon paying 51. every subscriber is to 

receive 5702. a year for ever, and this 
to the last farthing ; it may increase 
, but less it can never be ; the clear 
profit is always to be above 10,0002. 
i per cent, upon the capital ! This is 
i pretty well, sir, one would think. 
There is here estimate and statement 
1 enough to captivate the public ; but 
| this is not all; for Mr. Winsor has 
taken out a patent (of which, indeed, 
he has, according to his custom, enrolled 
no specification, but, on the contrary, 
has enrolled a surrender) for the in- 
vention of several things, and, among 
others, one for rendering this gas re- 
spirable. It is not enough that this 
| gas (which everybody knows to be 
! not respirable, but as poisonous to the 
lungs as fixed air) should be capable 
of giving light ; but he thinks it also 
necessary to prove that it may easily 
be rendered respirable ; in short, that 
there is no way in which it may not 
be used, and nothing which may not 
be made of it. ... In another pam- 
phlet. . . . Mr. Winsor endeavours to 
prove that this gas is the vital prin- 
1 ciple ; that in which life il^elf consists. 
I If I had taken the trouble to go through 
his publications, which 1 certainly 
have not done, it is hard to say what 
1 might not have discovered ; but 
I should think the difficulty would 
rather be, to find one quality which 
the gas is not stated to possess." 




without a wick?" " Yes, I do, indeed," answered Mur- 
dock. " Ah, my friend," said the legislator, " you are 
trying to prove too much." It was as surprising and 
inconceivable to the honourable member as George 
Stephensori's subsequent evidence before a Parliamentary 
Committee to the effect that a carriage might be drawn 
upon a railway at the rate of twelve miles an hour 
without a horse. 

No wonder that strange notions were entertained 
about gas in those early days. It seemed so in- 
credible a contrivance, to make air that could be sent 
along pipes for miles from the place at which it was 
made to the place at which it issued as jets of fire, that 
it ran entirely counter to all preconceived notions on 
the subject of illumination. Even Sir Humphry Davy 
ridiculed the idea of lighting towns with gas, and asked 
one of the projectors if it were intended to take the 
dome of St. Paul's for a gasometer ; and Sir Walter 
Scott made many clever jokes about the absurdity of 
lighting London with smoke, though he shortly after 
adopted the said "smoke" for lighting up his own 
house at Abbotsford. It was popularly supposed that 
the gas was carried along the pipes on fire, and that 
hence the pipes must be intensely hot. Thus, when the 
House of Commons was first lighted up with gas, 
the architect insisted on the pipes being placed several 
inches from the wall for fear of fire, and members might 
be seen applying their gloved hands to them to ascer- 
tain their temperature, expressing the greatest surprise 
on their being found as cool as the adjoining walls. 1 

1 The first application of the " Gas- 
light and Coke Company " to Parlia- 
ment in 1809 for an Act proved 
unsuccessful, but the " London and 
Westminster Chartered Gas - light 
and Coke Company" succeeded in 
the following year. The Company, 
however, did not succeed commer- 
cially, and was on the point of disso- 

lution, when Mr. Clegg, a pupil of 
Murdock, bred at Soho, undertook 
the management and introduced new 
and improved apparatus. Mr. Clegg 
first lighted with gas Mr. Ackerman's 
shop in the Strand in 1810, and it 
was regarded as a great novelty. One 
lady of rank was so much delighted 
with the brilliancy of the gas-lamp 



The advantages of the new light, however, soon 
became generally recognised ; and gas companies were 
established in most of the large towns. Had Murdock 
patented the invention, it must have proved exceedingly 
remunerative to him ; but he derived no advantage 
from the extended use of the new system of lighting 
except the honour of having initiated it, though of 
this more than one attempt was made to deprive him. 
As he himself modestly said, in his paper read before 
the Royal Society, " I believe I may, without presuming 
too much, claim both the first idea of applying, and 
the first actual application of this gas to economical 

Murdock' s attention was, however, diverted from 
prosecuting his discovery of the uses of gas to a profit- 
able issue by his daily business, which was of a very 
engrossing character. He continued, nevertheless, an 
almost incessant contriver, improver, and inventor ; 
following, like his master Watt, the strong bent of 
his inclinations. One of his most cherished schemes 
was the employment of compressed air as a motive 
power. He contrived to work a little engine of 
12-inch cylinder and 18-inch stroke, which drove the 
lathe in the pattern-shop, by means of the compressed 
air of the blast-engine employed in blowing the cupolas 
at the Soho Foundry ; and this arrangement continued 
in use for a period of about thirty-five years. He also 
constructed a lift worked by compressed air, which 
raised and lowered the castings from the Boring-mill 
to the level of the Foundry and the Canal Bank. 1 He 

fixed on the shop counter, that she 
asked to be allowed to carry it home 
in her carriage, and offered any sum 
for a similar one. Mr. Winsor by his 
persistent advocacy of gas-lighting, 
did much to bring it into further 
notice ; but it was Mr. Clegg's prac- 
tical ability that mainly led to its 
general adoption. When Westminster 

Bridge was first lit up with gas in 
1812, the lamplighters were so dis- 
gusted with it that they struck work, 
and Mr. Clegg himself had to act as 

1 " It consisted," says Mr. Buckle, 
" of a piston working in a cylinder 
10 feet diameter in water, with a lift 
of 12 feet, and raised by forcing in air 




used the same kind of power to ring the bells in his 
house at Sycamore Hill ; and the contrivance was after- 
wards adopted by Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford. 1 He 
experimented on the power of high-pressure steam in 
impelling shot, and contrived a steam-engine in 1803, 
with which he made many trials at Soho, in anticipation 
of Perkins's apparatus. He was the inventor of the well- 
known cast-iron cement so extensively used in engine 
and machine work ; and the manner in which he was 
led to it affords a striking illustration of his quickness of 
observation. Finding that some iron-borings and sal- 
ammoniac had got accidentally mixed together in his 
tool-chest and rusted his saw-blade nearly through, he 
took note of the circumstance, mixed the articles in 
various proportions, and at last arrived at the famous 
cement, which eventually became an article of extensive 
manufacture at the Soho works, completely superseding 
the cement invented by Watt. In 1810 he took out 
a patent for boring stone pipes for water, and cutting 
columns out of solid blocks by one operation. In 1815 
he invented an apparatus for heating the water for the 
Baths at Leamington by the circulation of water 
through pipes from a boiler, a method since exten- 
sively adopted 'for heating buildings and garden-houses. 
While occupied in erecting the apparatus at Leaming- 
ton, a heavy cast-iron plate fell upon his leg and severely 
crushed it, laying him up for many months. 

His ingenuity was constantly at work, even upon 
matters which lay entirely outside his special calling. 
Mr. Fairbairn informs us that he contrived a variety 
of curious machines for consolidating peat moss, finely 
ground and pulverised, under immense pressure, and 

from a small blowing cylinder 12 
inches diameter, 18 inches stroke, 
which was worked by the gearing in 
the boring -mill." Paper read by the 
late William Buckle at the Institution 

of Mechanical Engineers at Bir- 
mingham, 23rd October, 1850. 

1 Lockhart's * Life of Scott,' one 
vol. edition, p. 500. 




moulding it into beautiful medals, armlets, and necklaces, 
which took the most brilliant polish, and had the appear- 
ance of the finest jet. Observing that fish-skins might 
be used as an economical substitute for isinglass, he went 
up to London to explain to the brewers the best method 
of preparing and using them. 1 While in town on this 
errand, it occurred to him that there was an enormous 
waste of power in the feet of men and animals treading 
the streets of London, which might be economised and 
made productive ; and he conceived the idea of using 
the streets as a grand treadmill, under which the waste 
power was to be stored up by mechanical methods, 
and turned to account ! Another of his ingenious 
schemes though then thought equally impracticable 
with that last mentioned was his proposed method 
of transmitting letters and packages through a tube 
exhausted by an air-pump. This idea seems to have 
led to the projection of the Atmospheric Railway, the 
success of which, so far as it went, was again due to 
the practical ability of Murdock's pupil Samuel Clegg. 
Though the atmospheric railway was eventually aban- 
doned, it is remarkable that Murdock's original idea 
has since been revived, and practised with success, by 
the London Pneumatic Despatch Company. 

Such is a brief sketch of the life and works of this 
estimable and ingenious mechanic, for so many years 
the mainstay of the Soho works. Mr. Fairbairn, who 

1 Mr. Buckle, in the memoir above 
cited, says, " So completely was he 
absorbed at all times with the subject 
he had in hand, that he was quite 
regardless of everything else. When 
in London explaining to the brewers 
the nature of his substitute for 
isinglas, he occupied handsome apart- 
ments. He, however, little respected 
the splendour of his drawing-room, 
and, fancying himself in his laboratory 
at Soho, he proceeded with his expe- 
riments quite careless and unconscious 

of the mischief he was doing. One 
morning his landlady calling in to 
receive his orders, was horrified to 
see her magnificent paper-hangings 
covered with wet fish-skins hung up 
to dry ; and he was caught in the act 
of pinning up a cod's skin to undergo 
the same process. Whether the lady 
fainted or not is not on record, but 
the immediate ejectment of the 
gentleman and his fish was the con- 




first made his friendship at Manchester in 1816, speaks 
of him as one of the most distinguished veterans in 
mechanical engineering then living, "tall and well- 
proportioned in figure, with a most intelligent and 
benevolent expression of countenance." He was a man 
of robust constitution, and though he sorely taxed it, he 
lived to an old age, surviving the elder Boulton and 
Watt by many years. 1 


1 The young partners regarded him 
with a degree of affection and vene- 
ration, which often shows itself in 
their correspondence. Towards the 
later years of his life Mr. Murdock's 
faculties gradually decayed, and he 
wholly retired from the business of 
Soho, dying at his house at Sycamore 
Hill, Handsworth, on the 15th Nov., 
1839, in his 85th year. 

2 The first piece of iron -toothed 

i gearing ever cast is placed on the lawn 
1 in front of Murdock's villa. The teeth 
; are of somewhat unequal form, and 

the casting is rough perhaps it has 
I been exposed to rough usage. It bears 
i the following inscription : " This 
j Pinton was cast at Carron Ironworks 
I for John Murdock, of Bellow Mill, 

Ayrshire, A.D. 1760, being the first 

tooth-gearing ever used in millwork 

in Great Britain." 

2 F 




IT will be remembered that one of the early speculations 
of Roger Bacon related to the employment of engines of 
navigation without oarsmen, " so that the greatest river 
and sea ships, with only one man to steer them, may 
sail swifter than if they were fully manned,*' that one 
of the uses to which Papin proposed to apply the steam- 
engine was to " propel ships against the wind and 
tide," in illustration of which he constructed his model 
steamboat, and that, shortly after Newcomen's engine 
had become generally introduced as a pumping power, 
Jonathan Hulls took out a patent with the object of 
applying it to tow ships into and out of harbours. 
Hulls was followed, after a long interval, by Jouffroy 
in France and by Fitch in America, but none of their 
experiments proved successful ; and it was not until 
Watt invented the condensing engine that it was found 
practicable to employ steam as a regular propelling 
power in navigation. 

It was natural that the extraordinary success of Watt's 
invention should direct attention anew to the subject. 
The engine, in the powerful, compact, economical, and 
manageable form, into which he had brought it, was 
found able to effect rotary motion in the various pro- 
cesses of manufacture ; and, in a maritime country like 
England, the thought that would naturally occur to 
many minds would be this : If the steam-engine can 
drive mill-wheels, why may it not in like manner be 


employed to drive the wheels of carriages by land and 
the paddle-wheels of vessels by sea ? The subject was, 
indeed, often brought under the notice of both Boulton 
and Watt ; but the anxiety, annoyance and expense 
to which they had been subjected in defending their 
original patent, deterred them from venturing on this 
new field of enterprise. Watt never made his proposed 
locomotive engine for running on common roads ; and 
the model constructed by Murdock at Eedruth in 1784, 
remained a model still. 

The subject was, however, shortly after taken up 
by William Symington, at Wanlockhead, in Scotland, 
where his father was employed as engineman in super- 
intending the working of one of Boulton and Watt's 
pumping-engines. The sight of this engine, and his 
father's employment upon it, had probably the effect 
of first directing his attention to steam-power and its 
extended uses ; and having heard of Murdock's ingenious 
design from Boulton and Watt's men, who were con- 
stantly visiting and inspecting the pumping-engine, 1 it 
occurred to him to try whether he could not himself 
construct the model of a steam-carriage for use on 
common roads. He succeeded in making his model, and 
when it was finished, Mr. Meason, the manager of the 
Wanlockhead Lead Mines, was so much pleased with it 
that he asked the young man to accompany him to 
Edinburgh, to show it to the leading men of science 
in that city. Mr. Meason allowed it to be exhibited 

1 The Symingtons, father and son, , from Scotland. He says Symington 
began at an early period to design i has invented a new engine, which is 
improvements on Watt's pumping- to work under 12 Ibs. on the inch 
engine, and took out a patent for a and has got a patent for it, which 
fire-engine on a new principle as early ] Mr. M [eason] has paid for. By his 
as the year 1785. Watt heard of its j account it seems to be on the same 
progress from time to time ; but he had j principle as the Trumpeters. As soon 
no great opinion of the Symingtons, as they can rely fully on the new 
and treated their alleged invention engine, the old one is to be pulled 
with indifference. On the 28th Sep- down, and Symington is to put up 
tember, 1787, he wrote Boulton, one of his in the house, and, on that 
" Isaac Perrins [a fitter] is returned answering, ours is to be stopped ! " 

2 F 2 


at his own house, Symington being in attendance to 
give explanations. Some of the Edinburgh professors, 
who came to see the model, were so much pleased with 
the youthful inventor (then only about twenty years of 
age), and the indications of mechanical genius which 
his machine displayed, that they strongly recommended 
Mr. Meason to enter him as a student at the University, 
which he readily assented to, and Symington accordingly 
matriculated at Edinburgh College in 1786, and, amongst 
other lectures, attended those of Dr. Black on Chemistry 
in the following session. 

The Scotch roads were in too bad a condition at the 
time to admit of their being run over by a locomotive, 
and Symington eventually abandoned his proposed 
scheme. But he had also an idea that the steam-engine 
might be economically applied to the working of boats 
on canals, or ships at sea ; and with that object he 
invented an engine specially adapted for the purpose. 
This clearly appears from his correspondence with 
Thomas Gilbert, M.P., brother to the Duke of Bridge- 
water's land steward. Mr. Gilbert had inspected the 
model of the steam-carriage while on a visit to Edin- 
burgh, and at the same time had some conversation with 
Symington as to the employment of the steam-engine 
in hauling canal-boats, the ..result of which was that 
Symington promised to write him more fully on both 
topics. He proceeded to do so in a letter dated Wanlock- 
head, 24th September, 1786 ; in which, after describing 
the dimensions, power, mode of working, and the probable 
price (about 70/.) of a full-sized locomotive, he proceeded 

" But an engine of the same power and apparatus for working- 
boats on canals, will only coast about fifty pounds, and will only 
weight 110 st. Each strock of the engine will have a force equall to 
100 st. weight when applied, which undoubtedly. will be able to drag 
a great weight upon water, when we run the proportion between 
it and what a man can do in a boat with common oars, whose 
exertion does not exceed more than 7 stones ; but of this you will 
be a better judge than me. The engine we propose for working 


the land-carriage is Mr. Watt's, with some very material alterations ; 
and before we can use it we must make an agreement with him, 
which we intend to propose immediately. But the engine we 
propose to work boats or ships with is an engine intirely of our own 
invention, and more powerful and better adapted for the purpose 
than Mr. Watt's engine. This engine of our own we have presently 
at worke here is a large moddle, by which we have properly ascer- 
tained its power, and found it exceed Mr. Watt's engine nearly two 
pounds upon each square inch on the piston, without any greater 
consumpt of coals. Another advantage attending our engine is its 
being little more complicated than the old engine that works with 
an atmospheric pressure. We are to use our endeavours immediately 
for a patent for this engine as well as our carriage ; your assistance, 
when we get application made, will be of great service to us, and 
thankfully received by, Sir, &c. &c., WILLIAM SYMINGTON." ' 

About the same time that Symington was exhibiting 
his model carriage in Edinburgh, Mr. Miller of Dalswin- 
ton was trying experiments at Leith in propelling boats 
by paddle-wheels worked by men at a capstan. He 
had a triple vessel built, with wheels placed inside, on 
turning which the vessel was impelled forward. It 
will be observed that this was but a repetition of* the 
old experiment of Blasco Graray at Barcelona, and 
of Savery on the 
Thames. The ex- 
periments were on 
the whole success- 
ful, but the power 
employed in pro- 
pelling the vessel 
was felt to be de- 
fective, and the 
turning of the cap- 
stan was very hard work, at which men could not be 
brought to work continuously for any long period. 


1 This interesting letter, so in> j Description and Illustrated Catalogue 
portant as regards the early history i of the Great Exhibition of 1851,' to 

of thp. in volition nf t,ho wliip.h it. was rvynt.riVmt.prl l-v IVTr \V (] 

of the invention of the steamboat, 
appeared for the first time in the 
supplementary volume to the * Official 

which it was contributed by Mr. W. 0. 
Aitkin of Birmingham. 




Mr. Miller, being curious as to all mechanical novel- 
ties, went, amongst others, to see Symington's model 
locomotive ; and in the course of conversation with the 
inventor informed him of his own project, describing 
the difficulty he had experienced in getting his paddles 
turned for lack of power. The immediate remark of 
Symington was, ' Why don't you use the steam-engine ? " 
He proceeded to show how easily the engine might be 
connected with the wheels of the boat, using the model 
of the steam-carriage before him to explain his meaning. 
Mr. Miller appeared to have been struck by the sug- 
gestion, and in the pamphlet which he shortly after 
published describing his new vessel, he referred to the 
probable employment of steam-power for the purpose of 
driving the paddles. " I have reason to believe," he 
said, "that the power of the steam-engine may be 
applied to work the wheels, so as to give them a quicker 
motion, and consequently to increase that of the ship. 
In the course of this summer, I intend to make the 
experiment ; and the result, if favourable, shall be com- 
municated to the public." 1 

Mr. Miller subsequently contrived and constructed a 
double vessel, 60 feet in length, worked by a paddle- 
wheel placed amidships between the two halves of the 
ship, with a clear waterway in the middle in which 
the paddle was worked, propelling the vessel. An 
experiment with this new ship was tried in June, 1787, 
which was considered successful. "The vessel being 
put in motion by the water-wheel, wrought by five 
men at the capstern, was steered so as to keep the wind 
right ahead, and her rate of going was found by the 
log to be three and a half miles in the hour." 2 A sailing- 
match was arranged by Mr. Miller, in which he was 

1 'The Elevation, Section, Plans, 
and Views, of a Triple Vessel, and of 
Wheels, with Explanations of the 
Figures in the Engraving, and a short 
Account of the Properties and Advan- 

tages of the Invention.' By Patrick 
Miller, Esq., of Dalswinton, Edinburgh, 

2 Mr. Miller's statement to the Royal 
Society, 20th December, 1787. 


to run his vessel from Inchcolm (a small island in the 
Frith of Forth) to Leith, against a Custom-house wherry 
which was reckoned a fast sailer. In this race the 
double vessel beat by a few minutes. A young man 
named James Taylor, who officiated in Mr. Miller's 
family as tutor to his two younger sons, was on board 
the vessel, and took his turn in working the wheels, 
which he found to be " very severe exercise." In conse- 
quence of this trial and its results, Taylor became per- 
suaded that unless a more commanding power than that 
of men could be applied, the invention of the paddle-ship 
would prove of little use ; and on turning the matter 
over in his mind, he suggested to Mr. Miller the use 
of the steam-engine. This, however, was no new 
idea, as, from what we have already stated, it is clear 
that it had already occurred to Symington, who had 
even contrived an engine for the express purpose of 
propelling ships. As Taylor was intimate with Syming- 
ton, and a fellow-student with him at Edinburgh Col- 
lege in the session of 1786-7, it is probable that Taylor 
obtained from him his first idea of the application of the 
steam-engine to Mr. Miller's paddle-boat. 

The result of Symington's and Taylor's suggestion 
was, that Mr. Miller resolved to make a further experi- 
ment; and he ordered a double boat to be built and 
fitted with a steam-engine for trial on Dalswinton Loch, 
near his country-seat in Dumfriesshire, in the course 
of the following summer. Symington prepared the 
plans of the engine, the castings of which were executed 
by George Watt, an Edinburgh founder ; and when the 
parts were ready, Symington and Taylor went together 
to Wanlockhead, in the summer of 1788, to have the 
engine erected and placed in the boat in readiness for 
the proposed trial. 

In the mean time, other projects of a similar kind 
were afoot; and Boulton and Watt continued to be 
solicited from different quarters on the subject of engines 


for sailing ships. To these they continued to turn 
a deaf ear. They were willing to execute engines to 
order, but they declined to undertake them as specula- 
tions. Thus, in the spring of 1788, we find Sir John 
Dalrymple, one of the barons of the Court of Exchequer 
at Edinburgh, addressing Boulton on the subject of 
the proposed application of the steam-engine to the 
propulsion of ships, and the reply of the latter clearly 
shows what were then the views of the Soho firm on 
the subject : 

"Siu, I have just received the honour of your letter of the 
23rd inst., by which I observe you are intent upon applying 
the power of steam to the navigation of ships, boats, &c. 

" It is one of the applications of our engine which Mr. Watt and 
I have often talked of, but we were deterred from the prosecution 
of it more from political than mechanical difficulties, as well as from 
some prudential reasons; besides which, we thought we could be 
more useful to the public and to ourselves by confining our attention 
to such subjects as were within the limits of our own powers and 
our own country. We still continue of that opinion, and are 
persuaded that it would be folly in us (who have our hands and 
heads full of solid and important business) to engage in any set of 
new experiments, or, like Charles XII., go in quest of conquest 
in foreign kingdoms, and leave our own to be conquered. 

" If you or your friends want any of our steam-engines for any 
purpose you ma}' think proper to apply them to, we shall be 
very glad to serve you upon the usual terms ; although I must 
confess that I should be sorry to see them applied to one purpose 
which perhaps may be of as much importance to this country 
some time or other as Admiral Drake's fire-ship was on a former 

" I beg the favour of you not to consider me or Mr. Watt as 
schemers or projectors, but as men who are following their regular 
established trade and manufactures of great extent, amongst 
others that of steam-engines, and engineers, in which capacity we 
shall always be found attentive to your commands." l 


it was of 

OiiC^ii d/J. VV 0/J O M\3 JXTUUVl (Hi IJ UUJ.J. Ill V C l/<_ J\JU.L \j\JlLLLLLailL\JLi3. 

Symington had many difficulties to encounter 
erecting his engine at Leadhills. Though it was 

1 Bonlton to Sir John Dalrymple, i to have been the Torpedo, then a fa- 
26th March, 1788. The' "one pur- j vourite scheme with French inventors 
pose " alluded to by Boulton is supposed j for blowing up English ships. 




very small size, being of only about two horses power, 
with a four-inch cylinder, it required as much skill to 
construct as a much larger engine would have done. 


The arrangement of the power was new, as well as the 
application ; and, as in the case of every new machine, 
where unforeseen defects were brought to light, new 
expedients had to be contrived for the purpose of over- 
coming them. Mr. Miller became impatient for its com- 
pletion, and repeatedly wrote from Edinburgh urging 
despatch, fearing lest some other projector should get 
the start of him in applying the steam-engine to the 
driving of ships. Taylor, who managed the correspond- 
ing part of the enterprise, replied, " You need be under 
very little apprehension as to any person getting 
before you in this. It is easy in conversation, but very 
different in execution. However, as such a circumstance 
would be equally unpleasant to us, to prevent it you may 
depend upon the greatest expedition being used." l 

Taylor being further urged by his employer, again 
wrote from Leadhills on the 12th September, 1788, 
"Mr. Symington and I are as busy here as we possibly 
can be. We work from six o'clock in the morning 
till dark in the evening, without losing a moment ; also, 

1 Taylor to Miller, 20th August, 1788. 'Supplementary Vol. to Official 
Description and Illustrated Catalogue of the Exhibition of 1851,' p. 1473. 



to forward us the more, we have called in the aid 
of a watchmaker here, who works along with us. We 
are now in great forwardness, and will not be long 
of finishing. I could not ascertain to a day when it 
will happen, but believe we shall have it at Dalswinton 
some time before the end of the month." 

The engine was shortly after finished, mounted in a 
strong oak frame, and taken to Dalswinton. It was 
then placed on the deck of Mr. Miller's double pleasure- 
boat, twenty-four feet long and seven broad, which had 
been prepared for its reception. 


The engine was placed on one side of the boat, the 
boiler on the other side to balance it, and the paddle- 
wheels in the middle ; the rotary motion being obtained 
from the engine by chains, ratchet-wheels, and catches. 
The first experiment was tried on the 14th of October, 
1788, and proved successful, the engine being propelled 
at the rate of five miles an hour. 2 Among the persons 

1 Taylor to Miller, 20th August, 
1788. ' Supplementary Vol. to Official 
Description and Illustrated Catalogue 
of the Exhibition of 1851,' p. 1473. 

2 The following contemporary ac- 

count of the trial appeared in the 
'Scots Magazine' for November, 
1788 : " On October 14th, a boat 
was put in motion by a steam-engine 
upon Mr. Miller of Dalswinton's piece 


present on the occasion, besides Miller, Symington, and 
Taylor, were Alexander Nasmyth, the landscape painter, 
and Eobert Burns, the poet, then a tenant of Mr. Miller 
on the neighbouring farm of Ellisland. After a few 
further experiments the engine was taken out of the 
boat and carried into Mr. Miller's house, where it 
remained for many years, and was eventually deposited 
in the Museum of Patents at Kensington, where it is 
now to be seen. 

The experiments made with this first steamboat were 
so satisfactory that Mr. Miller resolved to try one upon 
a larger scale. By this time Messrs. Allen and Stewart, 
of Leith, had built for him another double vessel, ninety 
feet in length ; and he wrote to Symington, requesting 
his estimate of the cost of fitting it with a suitable 
steam-engine. Symington's reply was to the effect 
that a proper-sized engine for such a vessel w r ould, 
in his opinion, be about 250/., including the float- 
wheels. The necessary order was given, and Symington 
proceeded to the Carron Ironworks for the purpose of 
constructing it. The vessel arrived at Carron on the 
24th June, and by the month of November following 
the engine was' finished and put on board ready for 
trial. 1 The result was not so satisfactory as in the case 

of water at that place. That gentle- j points it out to be of the greatest 
man's improvements in naval affairs advantage, not only to this island, but 
are well known to the public. For ! to many other nations of the world. 

some time past his attention has been 
turned to the application of the steam- 
engine to the purposes of navigation. 
He has now accomplished, and evi- 

The engine used is Mr. Symington's 
new patent engine." 

1 From a memorandum found 
amongst Mr. Boulton's papers, we 

dently shown to the world, the prac- j learn that the following were the 
ticability of this, by executing it upon | details of Symington's engine : "En- 
a small scale. A vessel, 25 feet long gine hath two cylinders of 18 inches 
and 7 broad, was, on the above date, diameter each and 2 feet stroke. The 
driven with two wheels by a small rods of each piston are connected to a 
engine. It answered Mr. Miller's circular barrel of cast iron by means 
expectations fully, and afforded great of chains, so that whilst one piston 
pleasure to the spectators. The > moves down the other ascends, and so 
success of this experiment is no small j gives the barrel a reciprocating motion, 
accession to the public. Its utility in i Upon the axis of the barrel is an arm 
canals, and all inland navigation, i or lever which works the plug and 




of the experiment on Dalswinton Loch. The paddle- 
wheels were too weak ; first one float and then another 
broke off; and the trial had to be suspended until the 
defects were remedied. The next trial was, however, 
more satisfactory. The vessel reached a speed of seven 
miles an hour ; and this was repeated with the same 
result. There must, however, have been some defect 
in the engine performances ; for, in a letter written by 
Miller to Taylor, who was present throughout, he 
expressed the opinion that Symington's engine was 
altogether unsuitable for giving motion to a vessel. 1 
He accordingly ordered the engine to be taken out 
and placed in the Carron Works, and the vessel itself 
to be laid up at Bruce Haven. 

Thus matters remained until the spring of the follow- 
ing year, when Mr. Miller decided on applying to 
Boultori and Watt for an engine of a proper construc- 
tion, offering at the same time to associate them with 
him in his enterprise. The negotiation was opened by 
Robert, afterwards Lord Cullen, who addressed Watt 

working gear. Each of the cylinders 
hath 2 pistons, one at top and the other 
at bottom ; the 2 "bottom pistons have 
their rods moving in stuffing-boxes 
and are connected together by a beam. 
The steam is admitted into the cylinder 
at its side, between the 2 pistons, and 
moves the one tip and the other down ; 
but the motion of the upper is greater 
than the under. When the upper 
piston is got to the top and the under 
one to the bottom, the steam valve is 
shut and the exhaustion one opened ; 
by which the steam is admitted into 
the bottom of the cylinder, and is in its 
way met by a jet of cold water, which 
condenses it, and then it is squeezed 
out by the under piston, which in fact 
makes the bottom of the cylinder an 
air-pump. Whilst this condensation 
is going forward in the one cylinder, 
the steam is operating in the other, 
and vice versa." 

1 " I am now satisfied," he said, 

" that Mr. Symington's steam-engine 
is the most improper of all steam- 
engines for giving motion to a vessel, 
and that he does not know how to 
calculate frictions or mechanical 
powers. By means of a new well- 
constructed valve-wheel, and the 
pinion being doubled in diameter, I 
doubt not that the velocity of the 
vessel's motion will be increased ; but, 
do as you will, a great deal of power 
of the engine must be lost in friction. 
I remember well that when the small 
engine was wrought in the boat at 
Dalswinton, I had formed the same 
idea, and that I told you so ; but not 
having studied the subject, I gave up 
my own common sense. This is now 
past 1 remedy. As the engine cannot 
be of use to me now, I hope, with the 
aid of Mr. Tibbets and Mr. Stainton, 
you will get it sold before you leave 
Carron." Miller to Taylor, 7th De- 
cember, 1789. 


on the subject ; but his reply was not encouraging. 
Like his partner, Watt was averse to new speculations ; 
and he had had too much anxiety and worry in con- 
nexion with his original enterprise to enter upon any 
new one. It will also be observed that he entertained 
doubts as to the eventual success of ocean navigation by 
steam. The following was his reply : 

" DEAR SIR, We have heard of Mr. Miller's ingenious experi- 
ments on double ships from Sir John Dairy mple, and also some 
vague accounts of the experiments with the steam-engine, from which 
we could gather nothing conclusive, except that the vessel did move 
with a considerable velocity. 

" From what we heard of Mr. Symington's engines, we were 
disposed to consider them as attempts to evade our exclusive 
privilege ; but as we thought them so defective in mechanical 
contrivance as not to be likely to do us immediate hurt, we thought 
it best to leave them to be judged by Dame Nature first before we 
brought them to any earthly court. 

" We are much obliged to Mr. Miller for his favourable opinion 
of us and of our engines, which we hope experience would more and 
more justify. We are also fully sensible of his kind intentions in 
offering to associate us with him in his scheme ; but the time of life 
we have both arrived at, and the multiplicity of business we are at 
present engaged in, must plead our excuse for entering into any 
new concern whatever as partners ; but as engineers and engine- 
makers we are ready to serve him to the best of our abilities, at our 
customary prices, for rotative engines, and to assist in anything we 
can do to bring the scheme to perfection. 

" We conceive that there may be considerable difficulty in making 
a steam-engine to work regularly in the open sea, on account of the 
undulating motion of the vessel affecting the vis inertias of the matter ; 
however, this we should endeavour to obviate as far as we could. 

" It may not be improper to mention that Earl Stanhope has 
lately taken a patent for moving a vessel by steam, but not by 
wheels. His Lordship has also applied to us for engines ; but we 
believe we are not likely to agree with him, as he lays too much 
stress upon his own ingenuity. 

" We cannot conclude without observing, that were we disposed 
to enter into any new concern whatever, there is no person we 
should prefer to Mr. Miller as an associate, being fully apprised 
of his worth and honour, and admirers of the ingenuity and industry 
with which he has pursued this scheme. 

" Permit me now, Sir, to return you my thanks for your obliging 




attention to me, and for the trouble you have taken in this affair, 
and to ask the favour of your presenting Boulton and Watt's 
respectful compliments to Mr. Miller. I remain, dear Sir, &c. &c., 


Mr. Miller proceeded no further with his experiments, 
on which he had already expended a large sum of 
money. He seems to have lost faith in the applicability 
of the steam-engine to the propulsion of ships, and 
reverted to his original idea, as we find him taking out 
a patent in 1796 for a new kind of flat-bottomed ship, 
which he proposed to impel during calms by means of 
wheels worked by capstans ; but he makes no mention 
whatever of the use of the steam-engine. 

Symington was greatly disappointed with the result 
of his experiments. Being without the means of carry- 
ing the steamboat further, he feared that all his past 
labours would prove in vain, and that some more 
fortunate speculator would carry off the prize that 
seemed almost within his grasp. The subject was not, 
however, allowed to sleep. Fitch and Evans were 
pursuing the invention in America ; Rumsey, another 
American, came over to England in 1788, with a scheme 
for propelling boats by steam ; and Fourness and Earl 
Stanhope were making experiments in the same direc- 
tion ; but none of them had yet succeeded in con- 
structing a practicable working steamboat. Thus ten 
more years passed, during which other inventors came 
forward, took out patents, made their trials, failed, and 

In the year 1801 Symington had another chance. 
Lord Dundas, G overnor of the Forth and Clyde Canal 
Company, had been revolving in his' mind whether 
some more expeditious and economical method than 
horse-power might not be contrived for hauling the 

1 J. Watt to R. Cullen, 24th April, 
1790, ' Supplementary Volume to 
Official Descriptive and Illustrated 

Catalogue of the Exhibition of 1851,' 
p. 1475. 



boats along the canal ; and, being aware of the experi- 
ments made by Miller and Symington ten years before, 
he determined to give Symington's engine another trial. 
A boat was accordingly built for the purpose of the 
experiment, and named the ' Charlotte Dundas,' after 
his Lordship's daughter. For this vessel Symington 
contrived a steam-engine of a greatly improved cha- 
racter. It was a direct-acting engine, the steam acting 
on each side of the piston, after the method invented 
by Watt, whose patent had now expired; the rotary 
motion of the paddle-wheels being secured by means of 
a connecting-rod and crank, instead of by chains and 
rat ched- wheels, as in the first two boats. 


The first trial of the vessel was perfectly satisfactory. 
After making a trip to Glasgow, she was employed in 
towing vessels along the canal. She was also occa- 
sionally sent down the Frith to bring up ships detained 
by contrary winds to the canal entrance at Grrange- 
mouth. 1 

Fortune at length seemed to smile on poor Syming- 
ton, and his spirits were proportionately elate at the 

1 One day in March, 1802, on the 
occasion of a strong west wind blowing, 
when the canal-boats could with diffi- 
culty be moved to windward, the 
steamer took in tow two laden sloops, 

the * Active ' and ' Euphcrnia,' of 
seventy tons each, from Lock 20 to 
Port Dundas, Glasgow, a distance of 
19J miles, in six hours. 


result of these important experiments. He had, in 
fact, achieved a decided success in the ' Charlotte 
Dimdas,' in which he combined together, for the first 
time, those improvements which constitute the present 
system of Steam Navigation. Indeed Mr. Woodcroft, 
a competent judge, says that " the vessel might, from 
the simplicity of its machinery, have been at work at 
this day with such ordinary repairs as are now occa- 
sionally required to all steamboats." l 

Lord Dundas was so well satisfied with the perform-